Fifa trial: defendant accused of witness intimidation after official’s suicide
Shortly after former Argentinian football official killed himself amid bribery allegations, prosecutors say Manuel Burga made throat-slicing gesture at witness
A defendant in the Fifa corruption trial was accused of intimidating a key government witness, just hours after a former Argentinian football official killed himself following an accusation in court on Tuesday that he had taken millions in bribes.
Plunging the US trial of three former Fifa officials deeper into controversy, federal prosecutors on Wednesday accused Manuel Burga, the former head of Perus football association, of making a slicing motion across his throat directed at Alejandro Burzaco, a former sports marketing executive who has confessed to paying tens of millions of dollars in bribes to senior Fifa officials.
For the past two days, Burzaco has been laying out in a New York City courtroom a detailed set of corruption allegations against the three men on trial he claims to have bribed over a period of years.
Prosecutors said they had witnessed Burga make the slicing motions twice during proceedings on Tuesday and Wednesday morning and requested he be placed in jail for the rest of the trial after Burzaco had broken down on the stand earlier in the day.
Burgas attorney, Bruce Udolf, said his client had been simply itching his throat due to dermatitis and characterized him as gentle, meek, timid man.
But the US district court judge Pamela Chen ordered Burga be placed effectively on lockdown under house arrest and revoked his access to phone and computers.
The trial is already taking place under heightened security after Chen expressed concerns about witness intimidation before proceedings began. The federal investigation into global corruption at Fifa has resulted in over 40 indictments of senior football officials and marketing executives, with 23 so far pleading guilty.
During tense exchanges on Wednesday evening, Udolf argued that Burzaco had broken down earlier in the day due to the suicide in Buenos Aires on Tuesday, rather than intimidation in the courtroom. Chen replied: You call it a suicide. No one knows that for sure.
Jorge Delhon, 52, who authorities say killed himself on Tuesday evening, was a former lawyer for Argentinas Football for All, a government program that holds broadcast rights to domestic football in the country. Earlier on Tuesday, Burzaco had told the court he had paid Delhon and another Argentinian official annual $500,000 bribes between 2011 and 2014 for the marketing rights to domestic Argentinian football games.
The death was announced by police in Buenos Aires hours after the allegations were made. The lawyer’s body was found near train tracks with a suicide note, according to the Associated Press.
The three former officials on trial Burga; Juan Rangel Napout, the Paraguayan former president of South American footballs governing body, Conmebol; and Jos Maria Marin, the former head of Brazils football confederation deny multiple counts of racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering.
During testimony on Wednesday, Burzaco said he had paid Burga a total of $3.6m in bribes; Marin $2.7m; and Naput $4.5m while he was CEO of the dominant South American media company Torneos y Competencias. The money had come in exchange for the marketing rights to major regional tournaments.
The former executive gave tearful testimony as he recounted the moment he turned himself into US authorities shortly after a raid on a hotel in Zurich in May 2015, where the US governments sprawling investigation into corruption at Fifa was announced.
He claimed his brother, a law enforcement official in Argentina, informed him police in Buenos Aires wanted to shut me down to make it possible not to say anything in the US This included killing me, he said.
Burzaco had signed a plea agreement with US prosecutors, including the forfeiture of $21.7m in assets and the forced sale of his stake in Torneos y Competencias. In exchange, he said, prosecutors would inform Chen of his co-operation and recommend him for a special informant visa allowing him to work in the US.
Im hoping not to go to prison, Burzaco, who has not been sentenced, said.
Burzacos evidence has implicated a host of influential football officials for taking multiple bribes in exchange for marketing rights to regional competitions. Burzaco has also said well-known sports broadcasters, including Fox Sports, paid bribes to football officials. Fox Sports denies wrongdoing.
On Tuesday, Burzaco alleged that Julio Grondona, a former head of the Argentinian football association and a senior vice-president at Fifa, had taken at least $1m in bribes to vote for Qatar to host the 2022 World Cup.
The witness is due to be cross-examined by defense attorneys on Thursday. The trial is expected to last up to six weeks, with other co-operating witnesses expected to testify.
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