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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 September 2018

Fifa trial ends with conviction of two football bosses

Jose Maria Marin and Juan Angel Napout are likely to face jail time for the offences

Juan Angel Napout, centre, defendant in the FIFA corruption trial, arrives at court in Brooklyn. REUTERS/Stephen Yang
Juan Angel Napout, centre, defendant in the FIFA corruption trial, arrives at court in Brooklyn. REUTERS/Stephen Yang

A US jury convicted two South American former football bosses of corruption on Friday but will return after Christmas to deliberate on the fate of a third defendant in the Fifa trial in New York.

The panel returned guilty verdicts against Jose Maria Marin, former head of Brazil’s Football Confederation and Juan Angel Napout, former head of Paraguayan football, on the sixth day of deliberations following an extraordinary seven-week trial.

Marin, 85, was convicted on six of seven counts, and Napout, 59, on three out of five, in connection with bestowing television and marketing rights to football matches.

But the jury said they had not yet reached consensus on former Peru boss Manuel Burga, who faces one count of racketeering conspiracy. They will return to resume deliberations on Tuesday, after the Christmas holiday.

The trial in a Brooklyn federal court exposed systemic criminal activity at the heart of the world’s most popular sport, two and a half years after the United States unveiled the largest corruption scandal in the history of world football. Governing body Fifa has also been dogged by allegations of corruption in the selection of the host country for the 2022 World Cup, which was awarded to Qatar.

Marin, Napout and Mr Burga are the only three defendants to have faced trial out of 42 officials and marketing executives indicted by US prosecutors. The sports company Traffic detailed 92 alleged crimes to the tune of more than $200 million.

Marin and Napout were convicted of racketeering conspiracy under US law penalising criminal organisation – charges that have jailed mafia bosses – for accepting bribes in exchange for bestowing television and markting rights to matches.

They betrayed no emotion as they heard the verdicts. Napout’s family and wife, visibly nervous, were the only relatives of the defendants in court Friday. Prosecutors said they were blinded by greed into accepting more than $17 million in bribes – $10.5 million to Napout and $6.55 million to Marin.

Marin was recorded talking about taking bribes by associate turned US government cooperating witness, businessman Jose Hawilla, who wore a wire. The Brazilian was acquitted only of one count of money laundering conspiracy, in relation to the Brazil Cup. He was convicted on two others, as well as of wire fraud and racketeering conspiracies.

Napout was convicted on one count of racketeering conspiracy and two counts each of wire fraud conspiracy. He was acquitted on two counts of money laundering conspiracy.

The US government told jurors that Mr Burga, 60, agreed to receive bribes but never received them because he was under investigation at home in Peru for money laundering.

Judge Pamela Chen will now have to determine the sentences. Each count faces a maximum penalty of 20 years behind bars. Lawyers for Marin and Napout said they would appeal the convictions.

The proceedings lifted the lid on the life of privilege, luxury and excess enjoyed by members of Fifa's executive committee, including personal chauffeurs, private jets and "presidential treatment", luxury hotels, meetings in idyllic resorts in the Bahamas or Mauritius, and even cruises on the Danube for wives, children and grandchildren.

The defence lawyers claimed that while there was indisputable corruption at Fifa, nothing suggested their clients were directly involved. None of the accused took the stand in their own defence.

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