Talk of mega bribes and throat-slashing gestures at FIFA trial
A trial exposing rampant corruption in the business of world football ended a day of testimony Wednesday with a defendant accused of making throat-slashing gestures to intimidate a key witness.
The witness, Alejandro Buzarco, was weeping and appeared visibly distraught as he began his second day of testimony in the FIFA corruption trial in the Brooklyn federal court, prompting the judge to pause the proceedings.
Many in the court assumed Buzarco was upset because a former Argentine football official had committed suicided in Buenos Aires the day before after being implicated in the scandal by the Argentine businessman.
Buzarko, who headed sports marketing firm Torneos y Competencias, had accused Jorge Delhon and another official with a government program that held television rights to Argentine football matches of taking millions of dollars in bribes. Delhon threw himself in the path of a train.
But at the end of the day, the federal prosecutor told the judge that Buzarco reacted as he did because one of the defendants, Manuel Burga, a former head of Peru’s soccer federation, had twice drawn a finger across his neck.
“There has been a new crime committed, intimidation of a witness,” prosecutor Kristin Mace told the judge.
Burga’s lawyer, Bruce Udolf, scoffed at the suggestion: “This is a gentle, big, timid man,” he said. “He was scratching his neck.”
Judge Pamela Chen said she was concerned “this might have been an effort to intimidate the witness” and ordered Burga be confined with GPS monitoring and no computer or phone access, except to his lawyer.
Mega bribes alleged
Burga is on trial along with co-defendants Juan Angel Napout, formerly head of the South American Football Federation and vice president of FIFA, and Jose Maria Marin, the former head of Brazil’s football federation.
Buzarco, who pleaded guilty in November 2015 to racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering conspiracies, detailed how millions of dollars were paid in bribes to secure television rights to major tournaments.
He said Torneos y Competencia and its partners paid Napout $4.5 million, Burga $3.6 million and Marin $2.7 million. Millions more were promised, he said.
All three maintain their innocence.
Buzarco also alleged that his company and Televisa of Mexico and TV Globo of Brazil paid the former head of the Argentine football federation and former first vice president of FIFA, Julio Grondona, a $15 million bribe for television, internet and radio rights to the 2026 and 2030 World Cups.
“The money for JG ended up in subaccounts in the Swiss Bank Julius Baer,” he said.
TV Globo obtained exclusive rights in Brazil for the two World Cups, and Televisa and Torneos got them for the rest of Latin America.
Buzarco further alleged that TV Globo, Televisa, MediaPro of Spain, Full Play, Traffic and Fox Sports paid bribes for football rights to regional tournaments.
He said Datisa — a joint venture between Torneos, Traffic and Full Play – agreed in March 2013 to pay $10 million to Jeffrey Webb, then head of CONCACAF, and Enrique Sanz, its secretary general, for rights to the 2016 Centennial Cup Americas in the United States.
CONCACAF is a confederation of North America, Central American and Caribbean football associations.
Buzarco said he met with Sanz in Zurich in March 2013 to coordinate a schedule of payments for the $10 million.
Fox Sports and the Globo group denied the accusations.
“Any suggestion that Fox Sports knew of or approved of any bribes is emphatically false,” Fox Sports said in a statement.
Globo told Brazilian media it “does not practice or tolerate the payment of bribes” and noted it has not been accused of anything by the US Justice Department.
Buzarco will be cross-examined Thursday by defense lawyers.