NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) – A key government witness at the U.S. trial of three former South American soccer officials was cross-examined on Thursday about allegations he bribed the defendants, while a judge reviewed claims that one defendant made a slashing motion across his neck in a way meant to intimidate the witness.
A lawyer for Juan Angel Napout, the ex-president of Paraguay’s soccer federation, pressed Alejandro Burzaco on Thursday about whether he personally paid any bribes to Napout in a scheme that has scandalized FIFA, the sport’s governing body.
Burzaco, a former marketing executive from Argentina testifying under a plea deal, told jurors in federal court in Brooklyn that he “personally never gave Napout cash in his hands.” Instead, millions of dollars in bribes from his company were channeled through various off-the-books business entities before reaching Napout, he testified.
The defendant “receives the money,” he said. “He’s happy.”
Napout, Manuel Burga, of Peru, and Jose Maria Marin, of Brazil, have pleaded not guilty to charges they enriched themselves in a 24-year international conspiracy involving $150 million in bribes in exchange for lucrative broadcasting and hosting rights for soccer tournaments. More than 40 defendants have been charged in the sprawling corruption case, with many, including Burzaco, pleading guilty in hopes of getting reduced sentences.
During three days on the witness stand, Burzaco testified that his firm gave bribes totaling $4.5 million to Napout, $3.6 million to Burgo and $2.7 million to Marin. He also claimed he has been the subject of death threats in Argentina because of his cooperation against powerful soccer officials.
U.S. District Judge Pamela Chen has been scrutinizing courtroom security videotape that prosecutors say backs up their claim that Burga made a threatening gesture Wednesday while staring at Burzaco. The defense said Burga was merely scratching his neck.
“This is a gentle, meek, timid man,” Burga’s attorney, Bruce Udolf, said during a conference without the jury in the courtroom. “I never saw any indication that he was making any gesture.”
For now, the judge has stopped short of locking up Burga as prosecutors wanted, instead tightening bail conditions by placing him under house arrest at a residence in Brooklyn. Burga already had been on GPS monitoring but had some privileges to leave the home.
FIFA’s main job is to organize and run the World Cup soccer tournament, next happening mid-summer 2018 in Russia.
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