Fifa corruption scandal goes to US court

FIFA President Gianni Infantino in Calcutta, October 27 2017
© Reuters/Rupak De Chowdhuri

Three former high-ranking South American football officials were to stand trial in New York on Monday for their role in the biggest corruption scandal in the history of soccer.

Two and a half years after US prosecutors unveiled the largest graft scandal in the history of world soccer, the only defendants detained in the United States who continue to profess their innocence were to go on trial on Monday.

In the dock:

  • José Maria Marin, former president of the Brazil football association;
  • Juan Ángel Napout, a Paraguayan who used to be president of the South America football confederation;
  • Manuel Burga, president of the Peru FA for 12 years.

All three deny taking bribes over the sale of Copa América and other television rights.

The most high-profile is Marin. Critics have berated him for doing a disservice to his country where soccer is considered a national institution.

Swiss hotel raid

Marin was one of several senior officials from football's governing body to be dragged out of a five-star Zurich hotel at dawn in December 2015, when the first allegations of corruption broke.

Those arrests led to the downfall of Fifa's former president Sepp Blatter, who was seeking reelection at the time.

US prosecutors indicted 42 football and sports marketing executives for allegedly receiving millions of dollars in bribes, yet only three are on trial.

Substantial as these former Latin American football chiefs are, much more significant suspects have already pleaded guilty and others have been charged, so much of the legwork has already been done.

US discovers soccer

The real interest lies elsewhere, reckons sports consultant Vincent Chaudel, who says the trial reveals the US growing interest in soccer.

"Before the US didn't really care about soccer", he told RFI.

"But nowadays soccer is taking a larger space in the US. You can have brand new stadiums with naming rights and audience numbers that could compete with European championships, so there's a new interest in the States for soccer."

The fact that the US will host the World Cup in 2026 is an indication says Chaudel.

"In this competition, they face corruption, which is not new, but they decided to act and correct these things," he said in reference to the US taking the lead in bringing those responsible to account.

The trial is expected to last weeks if not months, with prosecutors expected to present 350,000 pages of evidence and dozens of witnesses.

Outbrain