A federal jury in Brooklyn on Tuesday found Peru’s former top soccer official not guilty of racketeering conspiracy, closing out a month-long trial that laid out allegations of widespread corruption in international soccer.
Manuel Burga’s acquittal came days after his two co-defendants, both former top FIFA officials in South America, were convicted by the same jury of racketeering, wire fraud and money-laundering charges.
He is the first acquittal of the more than 40 individuals and entities charged by the U.S. Justice Department in its yearslong probe of soccer’s global governing body. “We are very gratified by the jury’s findings,” said Mr. Burga’s lawyer, Bruce Udolf. “Mr. Burga is very excited about seeing his family, much of whom he hasn’t seen in two years.”
The Brooklyn U.S. attorney’s office didn’t have an immediate comment on the verdict.
During the trial, federal prosecutors portrayed FIFA as a sprawling criminal enterprise and accused Mr. Burga and his co-defendants of accepting millions of dollars in bribes from sports marketing executives in connection with media and marketing rights for major regional soccer tournaments.
On Friday, José Maria Marin, the former president of Brazil’s soccer federation, was convicted on six counts and acquitted on a single count of money-laundering conspiracy. Juan Ángel Napout, a former FIFA vice president who led the Paraguayan soccer federation, was convicted on three counts and acquitted on two money-laundering conspiracy charges.
Mr. Burga faced a single count, racketeering conspiracy. A cooperating government witness, former sports marketing executive Alejandro Burzaco, said Mr. Burga got more than $3 million in bribes, but evidence presented at trial showed he hadn’t received the money.
Prosecutors alleged that Mr. Burga, knowing he was under investigation in Peru, had arranged to be paid later.
Messrs. Marin and Napout were convicted on the racketeering conspiracy count.
Mr. Burga was the subject of courtroom intrigue earlier in the trial after prosecutors said — without the jury present — that he had threatened Mr. Burzaco on the stand. According to prosecutors, Mr. Burga twice made “ a slicing motion across his throat” in the direction of the witness stand, after Mr. Burzaco described arranging bribes to Mr. Burga.
Mr. Udolf said in court that his client suffered from dry skin. But U.S. District Judge Pamela Chen ordered Mr. Burga held under stricter house arrest through the trial.
Source: The Washington Post