Former Fifa VP jailed 9 years for corruption

NEW YORK • To his lawyers, he was a man who did hundreds of good deeds, including paying for his chauffeur's knee surgery.

But United States prosecutors said former South American football boss Juan Angel Napout sometimes moved illicit cash by dispatching his personal driver on 15-hour trips from Buenos Aires, Argentina to Asuncion, Paraguay.

The 60-year-old, who was president of Conmebol, the governing football body for South America, and a former Fifa vice-president, was sentenced to nine years' jail on Wednesday after being convicted by a US jury of receiving US$3.4 million (S$4.6 million) in bribes and soliciting almost US$25 million.

In announcing the sentence, US District Judge Pamela Chen said she had a hard time reconciling the portrait of Napout, painted by those close to him as a man of generosity and good character, with the evidence at his trial.

"Napout had a public face, one that is reflected in all the letters I've seen," she said. "But then, there was this hidden character he had, this hidden life."

Napout sought to mitigate his actions before the sentence was handed down. "I know America is a compassionate country. I beg you for your mercy," he told Chen.

The Paraguayan had portrayed himself publicly as an agent of reform who tried to change Conmebol, which was plagued by years of corruption.

But prosecutors argued that after he joined the Paraguayan Football Association in 2010, he began taking bribes and collected perks like a US$40,000 seaside vacation condominium and more than US$10,000 worth of tickets to a Paul McCartney concert.

Chen said the trial exposed the "rampant corruption in international football," which must be addressed.

"Clearly a message has to be sent to others that this behaviour will be met with serious consequences," she added. "You cannot steal millions in bribes from these organisations and go unpunished."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 31, 2018, with the headline 'Former Fifa VP jailed 9 years for corruption'. Print Edition | Subscribe