Two ex-South American soccer officials convicted in FIFA bribery case

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A New York jury on Friday found two former soccer officials guilty of taking bribes in exchange for the award of valuable marketing and media rights to international soccer matches.

Juan Angel Napout and Jose Maria Marin were convicted of US corruption charges following a five-week trial in federal court. There is not yet a verdict in the case against Manuel Burga.

Charges against the three were brought by US prosecutors in 2015 as part of investigations of world soccer's governing body FIFA.

Marin, Burga and Napout were among more than 40 people in the world of global soccer who faced criminal charges in the US in connection with what prosecutors said were schemes involving hundreds of millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks.

Many of the other defendants pleaded guilty.

The government’s star witness, a former marketing executive from Argentina, Alejandro Burzaco, testified that he and his company arranged to pay $160 million in bribes over the course of several years until his arrest in 2015.

Some of the money was demanded by a FIFA official in exchange for helping rig a vote that gave Qatar hosting rights for the World Cup in 2022, he said.

“You’ve seen a lot of paper, some of it quite complex,” Assistant US Attorney Sam Nitze said in closing arguments. “There are cases that present mysteries to be solved - whodunnits. This is not one of them.”

Prosecutors said Burga took $4.4 million in bribes, Marin took $6.6 million and Napout collected $10.5 million.

The defense argued that the men were innocent bystanders framed by Burzaco and other untrustworthy cooperators angling for leniency in their own cases.

Napout’s lawyer told jurors the prosecution had failed to produce records of wire transfers or large bank deposits that could prove he was receiving piles of bribe money.

“They say cash is king, but where did it go?” said the attorney, John Pappalardo. “There was not one penny they could trace to Juan.”

The lawyer for Marin, who is 85, called him a clueless figurehead, saying the person making the real decisions was Marco Polo del Nero, the head of Brazil's soccer federation. Del Nero is charged in the US case but hasn’t been extradited from Brazil. FIFA suspended him from the sport on Friday.