US jury acquits Peruvian defendant in FIFA bribery case at Brooklyn Federal Court
A former South American soccer official charged a U.S. trial stemming from the FIFA bribery scandal was acquitted of a corruption charge Tuesday, after two others were convicted last week.
Jurors found Manuel Burga, the 60-year-old former president of Peru’s soccer federation, not guilty of a single racketeering conspiracy charge.
On Friday, the jury told U.S. District Court Judge Pamela Chen they were deadlocked, but had reached guilty verdicts on multiple charges against two other former officials: Juan Napout, of Paraguay, and Jose Maria Marin, of Brazil. Chen gave jurors the holiday weekend to think about Burga’s case.
The judge had jailed Marin, 85, and Napout, 59, after their convictions Friday. The two were acquitted on some lesser charges.
Marin, Burga and Napout had been arrested in 2015. Prosecutors accused them of agreeing to take millions of dollars in bribes from businessmen seeking to lock up lucrative media rights or influence hosting rights for the World Cup and other major tournaments controlled by FIFA.
The three were among more than 40 people and entities in the world of global soccer charged in the U.S. in connection with an investigation that uncovered hundreds of millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks. Many of the other defendants pleaded guilty.
World soccer’s governing body said it is will seek compensation and a share of the cash.
FIFA said in a statement to The Associated Press that “as the jury has found a number of defendants guilty of the charged crimes, FIFA will now take all necessary steps to seek restitution and recover any losses caused by their misconduct.”
During the trial, the defense argued that the men were innocent bystanders framed by untrustworthy cooperators angling for leniency in their own cases. Burga’s lawyer claimed there was no proof he took bribes.
“I would submit to you that never has more been made of less evidence,” said Burga’s lawyer, Bruce Udolf.
Burga got some unwanted attention early in the trial when prosecutors claimed he unnerved the government’s star witness, a former marketing executive from Argentina, by directing a threatening gesture at him — running his fingers across his throat in a slicing motion. The lawyer claimed his client was merely scratching his throat, but the judge took the incident seriously enough to tighten Burga’s house arrest conditions.
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