The verdict is in: FIFA is not going to move past a sweeping bribery investigation into international soccer so easily.
A former FIFA vice president for South America and the Brazilian head of the 2014 World Cup organizing committee were found guilty of racketeering charges in a federal court in New York on Friday.
Juan Angel Napout of Paraguay and Jose Maria Marin denied the kind of corruption charges that more than 20 soccer and marketing executives working across the Americas have already admitted to the U.S. Department of Justice. More have been indicted and are fighting extradition.
Jurors will resume next week deliberating on racketeering charges against the third defendant,
Manuel Burga, Peru’s former soccer leader who sat on a FIFA panel distributing tens of millions of dollars in project grants.
Evidence in a six-week trial often did not directly touch soccer games and commercial deals run from FIFA’s home in Zurich.
Still, a deep culture of corruption was exposed among people embedded in FIFA’s so-called “football family.”
With prosecutors in four countries now helping each other investigate sports corruption — including in World Cup and Olympic bid races
The tiny, 2022 World Cup host nation also had a tough trial. Qatar spent much of the past seven years denying it bought victory or acted improperly toward FIFA voters.
Still, testimony in Brooklyn suggested a broader plan to build influence among voters’ colleagues, even if the defendants had no vote when FIFA’s executive committee picked the 2018-2022 World Cup hosts in December 2010.
However, Grondona, Teixeira and Leoz did have votes. South America’s trio ultimately supported Qatar in a five-nation 2022 contest, beating the U.S. in the final round.
In court, star witness Burzaco — an Argentine marketing executive who paid bribes and made a deal with prosecutors to testify — described his associate Grondona complaining to Qataris at a five-star hotel in Rio de Janeiro about selling his vote too cheaply.
Grondona said he got into “all these mess and scandal for only” $1.5 million, while Teixeira got tens of millions,” Burzaco said.
Another witness, from a different Argentine agency, testified that a ledger of bribes included payments of $750,000 and $500,000 to South American soccer federation presidents who did not have World Cup hosting votes. The payments were labeled “Q2022.”
At a Madrid hotel before the 2010 Champions League final, South American soccer officials were told that $15 million from Qatari interests was available as bribes money, according to one witness who has pleaded guilty, Luis Bedoya of Colombia.
Nothing said in court appears to directly threaten World Cup hosting for Qatar, which remains under blockade by its regional neighbors.
Still, it fueled the idea that Qatar’s path toward its greatest sporting moment will never be smooth.
FIFA the victim
FIFA has paid tens of millions of dollars to American lawyers and media consultants to help persuade the Department of Justice it is a victim of corruption, and not complicit.
That investment seemed to pay off in court. Direct references to FIFA leaders and staffers were rarely heard.
That should help FIFA get a share of more than $200 million in forfeitures by agencies and people who have been indicted or pleaded guilty in the wider case.
FIFA’s restitution claim in March 2016 was for $38.2 million plus legal fees and compensation for reputational damage.
A longer-term issue for FIFA is its 2026 and 2030 World Cup broadcast partners. While not charged in the American case, Fox Sports, Globo of Brazil, Televisa of Mexico were mentioned in testimony. They allegedly teamed up to bribe Grondona with $15 million to secure two-tournament deals in South America.
Another 2026-2030 rights holder, Qatar’s BeIN, is already under criminal investigation in Switzerland for suspected bribery in that deal.