Football: Top officials found guilty in Fifa case

Juan Angel Napout (centre) arriving at court in Brooklyn, New York, Dec 22, 2017.
Juan Angel Napout (centre) arriving at court in Brooklyn, New York, Dec 22, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW YORK (NYTIMES) - Two top international soccer officials were found guilty on Friday (Dec 22) for their roles in a web of corruption that extended across several continents and ensnared dozens of men who control the world's most popular sport.

A jury in federal court in Brooklyn on Friday convicted the men: Juan Angel Napout of Paraguay, the former top soccer official of South America, who was accused of accepting US$10.5 million (S$14 million) in bribes since 2010; and Jose Maria Marin, the former top soccer official of Brazil, who was accused of accepting US$6.55 million.

Marin was found guilty on six counts, of racketeering conspiracy, wire fraud and money laundering conspiracy. He was found not guilty on one count of money laundering conspiracy.

Napout was found guilty on three counts, of racketeering conspiracy and wire fraud conspiracy. He was found not guilty on two counts of money laundering conspiracy.

The month-long trial featured incriminating testimony by former associates, but defence lawyers argued there was little documentary evidence of money changing hands. Both men were convicted of racketeering conspiracy and wire fraud conspiracy, each count of which can carry up to 20 years in prison.

The jury delivered an unusual partial verdict, having communicated to the judge that the group was unable to reach a unanimous decision regarding the one count of racketeering conspiracy against Manuel Burga, the former top soccer official of Peru.

The judge ordered the jurors to return for further deliberations regarding his charge next week.

The verdicts against Napout and Marin partially resolved the trial in the United States' case focused on Fifa, the governing body of international soccer that was thrown into chaos when allegations were announced in 2015. Several high-ranking soccer officials were accused of accepting bribes from marketing companies that wanted to obtain commercial rights to major competitions.

More than 20 defendants had pleaded guilty as a result of the years-long investigation run by the Justice Department in coordination with the FBI and IRS. But the three officials who stood trial this month were in the minority as they fought the evidence laid out by the government.

Across decades, the three men and their predecessors laundered hundreds of millions of dollars, much of it through the US, according to the government. They diverted that money from the sport and into their own pockets by accepting kickbacks and bribes associated with soccer media and marketing contracts.