The first former FIFA officials to stand trial since U.S. prosecutors began investigating the association's shady practices are accused of agreeing "to receive millions of dollars in bribes" regarding the Copa America Centenario.
Assistant U.S. attorney Keith Edelman told the New York courtroom on Monday that the three defendants weren't exclusively looking to unlawfully profit from that competition, and "did it year after year, tournament after tournament, bribe after bribe," as reported by the Guardian's Oliver Laughland.
The accused trio are:
- Jose Maria Marin - 85-year-old former president of the Brazilian Football Confederation
- Juan Angel Napout - 59-year-old former president of CONMEBOL and the Paraguayan Football Association
- Manuel Burga - 60-year-old former president of the Peruvian Football Federation
All three deny multiple counts of racketeering, wire fraud, and money laundering; pocketing funds that Edelman suggested could've been spent on facilities around the world, and funding women's and youth teams.
"The defendants cheated the sport in order to line their pockets with money that should have been spent to benefit the game, not themselves," Edelman said, according to Reuters.
The trial's primary focus will be on how marketing and sponsorship rights were distributed for the Copa America and the Copa Libertadores, and also domestic competition Copa do Brasil. Edelman says he possesses U.S. government-presented evidence from witness testimony, financial paperwork, covert recordings, and further records that prove corrupt behaviour.
Napout is alleged to have accepted bribes amounting to "over $100,000 at a time."
The defence attorneys didn't deny any wrongdoing by FIFA officials in general, but insisted their clients weren't wrapped up in it. They claimed the U.S. government's investigation was relying too heavily on the accounts of FIFA employees who had pleaded guilty and were trying to lessen their sentences by becoming whistleblowers for the case.
Marin, Napout, and Burga are expected to receive lengthy sentences if found guilty in a trial that could last around six weeks. Of the 42 charged in the FIFA investigation so far, 24 have pleaded guilty and two have been sentenced.