The three defendants are Juan Ángel Napout, the former top soccer official of South America who is accused of accepting $10.5 million in bribes since 2010; Manuel Burga, the former top soccer official of Peru, accused of soliciting $4.4 million; and José Maria Marin, the former top soccer official of Brazil, accused of accepting $6.55 million. Mr. Marin, 85, is also the former governor of the state of São Paulo.
The United States announced its case focused on FIFA, global soccer’s governing body, in 2015, years into its far-reaching investigation that has been aided by various foreign governments. More than 40 defendants have been charged in the case, and more than half of them have pleaded guilty to their parts in a racketeering conspiracy that diverted money from global soccer and into the pockets of officials who admitted to awarding lucrative media and marketing contracts to businessmen who paid them bribes.
The three officials on trial have been unrelenting in fighting the charges against them. Through lawyers, each insisted over the last month that they had been wrongly caught up in an indisputable web of corruption, and that the former friends who testified against them had told lies to help the government and lessen their own possible prison sentences.
“These officials were in place to do an honest and fair job,” M. Kristin Mace, another prosecutor, told the jury, outlining a type of fraud of which the officials have been accused: depriving global soccer of their honest labor. “They didn’t do so.”
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In the government’s closing argument, Mace explained to the jury why she believed the Eastern District of New York had justification to bring the charges in question — against three South American nationals whose work revolved around Switzerland, where FIFA is headquartered. She cited the defendants’ “regular use of the airports” within the federal district — which includes Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, Long Island and “the waters surrounding Manhattan.”
Beyond citing multiple flights from La Guardia Airport in Queens, Mace cited wire transfers that had passed through Brooklyn, Long Island City and, en route to Manhattan, “the waters around the island.”
Lawyers for the three defendants maintained through their final arguments on Thursday that the government had overreached, and they called the evidence on their clients too thin to prove the charges beyond a reasonable doubt. Each of the charges against the men carries a possible 20 years in prison.
“Ask yourself: Is this evidence enough? Is it reliable?” John Pappalardo, a lawyer for Napout, told the jury, having disputed many pieces of the government’s case, including that his client received Paul McCartney tickets worth $10,000 as part of a bribe — and that the concert had even taken place. That prompted prosecutors to call the pop star Kevin Jonas, one of the Jonas Brothers, to testify that the concert, which Jonas attended, had indeed occurred in Argentina.
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Burga’s lawyer pointed to the fact that his client had never accepted any bribe money, something the prosecutors acknowledged and called irrelevant; he had been wary of accepting suspicious payments while under investigation for money laundering in Peru, they said, and had nonetheless engaged in a conspiracy to collect such bribe money at a future point.
Marin, 85, was painted by his lawyers as an innocent bystander, caught up only through his close associations with others who had been appropriately charged, they said. His lawyers called Marco Polo Del Nero — the current top soccer official in Brazil, whose implication in the corruption case has not affected his presidency or place in global soccer — the true power broker.
“They have a theory that everyone in soccer is dirty,” Pappalardo said in his closing remarks. “Whether the testimony was spirited or tedious,” he added, “there is no doubt the government’s investigation exposed widespread corruption in international soccer over a long period of time.”