Corruption trial begins in NYC for three ex-FIFA officials

Juan Angel Napout left Manuel Burga centre and Jose Maria Marin are the former South American officials on trial in New York. AP

It was the largest graft scandal in the history of world soccer, first unveiled by United States government prosecutors in May 2015 and lifting the lid on a quarter of a century of endemic corruption in the heart of Federation Internationale de Football Association, soccer's governing body.

All three have pleaded not guilty.

At the defense table with Marin, former president of Brazil's soccer federation, will be Manuel Burga, former president of Peru's soccer federation and Juan Ángel Napout, ex-president of the South American soccer governing body CONMEBOL and of Paraguay's soccer federation.

USA prosecutor Keith Edelman said in the opening statement that the sport's high officials, driven by "lies, greed, and corruption", agreed to take millions of dollars in bribes over a period of decades and "lined their own pockets with money that should have gone to benefit the game instead of themselves".

Edelman reiterated the prosecutor's theme of the two sentencings that have taken place so far that money they pocketed could have been spent to build pitches, buy equipment and fund women's teams and youth leagues.

He highlighted the May 2014 the launch of the Copa America 2016 - the first time the tournament was hosted outside South America and organised jointly by CONCACAF and Conmebol tournament - saying: "By all appearances it's a proud moment in the history of the game". "But lurking under the surface are lies, greed and corruption".

Edelman said evidence would include witness testimony, bank records, covert recordings and other documentation that proves each of the officials had received bribes. The 12-person jury was sworn in anonymously - a measure usually reserved for terrorism or mafia cases - after prosecutors reported attempts at witness intimidation. There is no real indication who these names are and the nature of this sensitivity.

Defense attorney Silvia Pinera accused the government of building its case on the testimony of corrupt soccer officials who are seeking leniency in their own cases stemming from a sprawling investigation of Federation Internationale de Football Association.

Alejandro Burzaco, former head of sports marketing company Torneos y Competencias, named the companies while being questioned by a prosecutor in Brooklyn federal court.

Fox, Televisa and Globo were not charged by USA prosecutors in the case. According to Napout's attorney, Silvia Pinera, he was given a "sweetheart deal" after he "turned himself in and began telling stories".

"The evidence will show that for over 20 years, the defendants co-conspired and abused the system", he said.

Bruce Udolf, for Burga, said: 'The people that the government have laid down with are some of the most despicable, corrupt people on earth'.

They deny all the charges. One woman chosen as a juror told Chen that a demonstrator said soccer fans worldwide consider what emerges at the trial to be "very important", adding, "Internationally, it's huge". "People can get pretty darn creative under those circumstances".

Charles Stillman, the defense lawyer for Mr. Marin, said his client was like a football player who remained on the sidelines while other, more powerful officials orchestrated the bribery plot. Not sure Brazilian football observers see it quite like that but it is an interesting image nonetheless.

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