Defense Paints Indicted FIFA Officials as Clueless Outsiders

Football officials on trial in New York over corruption charges

Football officials on trial in New York over corruption charges

Juan Ángel Napout, formerly president of the South American soccer governing body Conmebol and Paraguay's soccer federation, Manuel Burga, former president of Peru's soccer federation and José Maria Marin, the former president of Brazil's soccer federation are on trial in federal court in Brooklyn.

They are the first defendants to go on trial since seven soccer officials were arrested at Baur au Lac hotel in Zurich in May 2015, exposing what investigators say was a quarter of a century of corruption.

Since then 42 people have been charged, 23 have pleaded guilty and Federation Internationale de Football Association, the sport's global governing body, has lurched from one ugly scandal to the next.

"By all appearances it's a proud moment in the history of the game", Edleman told the jury. The evidence against them includes ledgers kept by the executives who paid the bribes, records of wire transfers and the testimony of other people who have been charged. There are drinks, press conferences but lurking under the surface are lies, greed, corruption, ' he said.

The former officials have been accused of taking millions of dollars in bribes in exchange for granting contracts for top South American tournaments. "Some of these officials had other reasons to celebrate, they had agreed to receive millions of dollars in bribes regarding the tournament".

Silvia Pinera-Vazquez, an attorney for Napout, painted a picture of the USA government "making up its mind that Mr. Napout was dirty because he was the president of Conmebol and working backwards" to find evidence of the charges. The trio then used US financial institutions to funnel millions of dollars to secret offshore accounts, prosecutors allege.

"It's about time to have it coming our way", Marin told a bribe-paying cooperator in 2014.

None of the lawyers for the former officials denied that there was corruption in worldwide soccer, but all told jurors that their clients had not taken part.

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While the USA investigation did not indict ex-Fifa president Sepp Blatter, he was thrown out of the sport in 2015 after Fifa's ethics committee found him guilty of accepting an improper two million Swiss francs (about $2.1 million) payment from then-Uefa chief Michel Platini.

Burga's attorney Bruce Udolf accused the government of using "too broad a brush" and sweeping up "lower-level people like Manuel under this RICO umbrella".

"They've made a lot of righteous charges against a lot of bad people".

Charles Stillman, Marin's attorney, likened the conspiracy to a match of football among children, arguing his client had remained out of the game while other more senior officials dictated the play. One woman chosen as a juror told Chen that a demonstrator said soccer fans worldwide consider what emerges at the trial to be "very important", adding, "Internationally, it's huge".

"He was kind of like the youngster standing off to the side, picking up daisies and looking around while others are running full steam ahead", Stillman said.

Both prosecutors and defense attorneys were at pains to explain to the court the significance of Fifa and football itself by comparing them to United States sports. "It's a passion, a way of life".

The trial is expected to last five weeks as prosecutors call dozens of witnesses to testify and present 350,000 pages of evidence. All three defendants face extensive prison time if found guilty.

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