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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 September 2018

Fifa official took $1m bribe for Qatar's World Cup vote, court hears

The evidence was delivered in New York during the trial of three former South American officials accused of corruption

Argentinian businessman Alejandro Burzaco has lifted the lid on lingering allegations around the way Qatar secured the 2022 World Cup. EPA / ANDREW GOMBERT
Argentinian businessman Alejandro Burzaco has lifted the lid on lingering allegations around the way Qatar secured the 2022 World Cup. EPA / ANDREW GOMBERT

The star witness in a football corruption trial has lifted the lid on lingering allegations around the way Qatar secured the 2022 World Cup, describing how Fifa’s second most senior figure demanded $1 million in return for his vote.

Alejandro Burzaco, the former chief executive of an Argentinian sports-marketing company, also repeated claims that Qatar broke Fifa’s rules by forming a voting pact with the joint Spain-Portugal bid for the 2018 tournament.

Qatar’s victory was announced in 2010 after four rounds of voting by Fifa’s executive committee in Zurich. Its surprise win – despite its lack of football infrastructure and blistering summer temperatures – has been dogged by allegations of bribery and corruption.

Burzaco’s evidence, delivered in Brooklyn’s federal court during the trial of three former South American officials accused of corruption, is the clearest account yet of how the decision may have been tainted.

He described how in 2011 he was called to the Buenos Aires apartment of Julio Grondona, the then head of the Argentine soccer federation and senior vice-president of Fifa, second in standing to Sepp Blatter.

The official, he said, was on the phone to Riccardo Texiera, president of the Brazilian federation and another member of the Fifa executive committee.

“He told me... that Riccardo Teixeira [owes] him $1 million because Julio Grondona voted for Qatar 2022 as the hosting nation of the World Cup,” he said.

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Burzaco added Grondona further told him that Teixeira and a third official were to receive money for their votes.

Earlier he described how his Argentinian sports marketing company Torneos y Competencias channelled millions of dollars to senior football officials across South America to secure television rights.

He described using shell companies and fake contracts to hide annual and one-off payments to members of Conmebol, the sport’s governing body in South America.

He also recounted the controversial vote at Fifa headquarters that selected Russia for the 2018 tournament and Qatar for 2022.

The three officials who had been offered money had made their intentions clear, after “Spain-Portugal explained them that they had made an internal agreement with Qatar authorities to syndicate votes and whoever votes for one, should vote for the other one”.

Despite the alleged deal, the Spain-Portugal bid was unsuccessful.

The plan started to fall apart further when the third official, Nicolás Leoz, the president of Conmebol, voted for Japan rather than Qatar in the first round of voting and then opted for Korea in the next.

He was confronted angrily by the other two during a break, said Burzaco.

“They came back from the restroom, and they have the new voting, and Qatar was selected for 2022,” he said.

More trouble followed when allegations surfaced that Qatar had paid $80 million in bribes.

Grondona approached a group of Qataris at an event in Rio de Janeiro in 2011 to mark the draw for World Cup qualifying matches. He insulted them and complained his name was in the newspapers and “they enter into all these mess and scandal for only one-and-a-half million dollars”, said Burzaco.

The angry official demanded either $80 million or a letter stating he had not been paid a penny in bribes. Grondona was later given the letter, according to the witness testimony.

Burzaco’s evidence is the latest embarrassment for Qatar’s attempt to host the World Cup.

Last month, management consultants Cornerstone Global published a report quoting Western diplomats saying there was a growing chance the tournament might not even happen.

“The reasons for this are many and include open allegations of corruption - both in the bidding process and in the infrastructure development,” the report said.

The trial in New York is the first based on a huge American investigation into corruption surrounding football’s governing bodies.

The three defendants - Jose Maria Marin, Manuel Burga and Juan Angel Napout – each rose to become head of their national football federations and have each pleaded not guilty to racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering conspiracies.

Their lawyers urged the jury to disregard the evidence of witnesses who have already pleaded guilty to their part in the scandal.

“Some of the most corrupt people on earth,” said Bruce Udolf, who is defending Burga, during his opening statement on Monday as he suggested witnesses facing decades in prison might get “creative” to reduce their jail time.

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