The FIFA Corruption Trials Are Playing Out Like An Episode Of Sopranos
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We’re entering the second week of FIFA corruption trials for three men in New York City and already the court cases are providing more entertainment than an HBO series. The FIFA scandal keeps getting weirder, and that’s not really a good thing for fans of the game, but it’s great for fans of an interesting narrative.
Jose Maria Marin of Brazil, Juan Angel Napout of Paraguay and Manuel Burga of Peru are on trial in the United States for their roles in a 24-year scheme involving at least $150 million in bribes revolving around broadcasting and hosting rights for FIFA events. All three have pleaded not guilty.
Court cases are long and boring, so we won’t get into the details. Instead, here are some of the extreme highlights (lowlights, really) from the first week of testimony.
Alejandro Burzaco, the former head of Torneos y Competencias, an Argentine sports marketing firm, is one of the key witnesses for the prosecution. While Burzaco was giving testimony last week, Burga twice made what appeared to be a throat-slitting gesture, slashing his hand across his neck.
Hilariously, the lawyer for Burga claimed his client has a skin issue and was merely scratching his neck. The judge had none of it and tightened Burga’s bail conditions.
Suicide In Buenos Aires
Jorge Delhon, a former Argentine government official, jumped in front of a train in Buenos Aires hours after Burzaco said Delhon took millions in bribes in exchange for TV rights. Delhon was a lawyer who worked for former Argentina president Cristina Fernandez.
Despite being ruled a suicide, Delhon’s death didn’t stop conspiracy theorists from suggesting there were some Frank Underwood tactics at play.
Another Presidential Link
In addition to a former lawyer for the Argentine president, the current president of Paraguay was also involved in the trials. President Horatio Cartes asked Napout for tickets to a 2014 World Cup match between Argentina and Iran as well as Argentina’s semifinal match, with implications that Cartes could help Napout in his goal of becoming CONMEBOL president as well as the ability to make pending legal matters either disappear or grow worse.
Napout used WhatsApp to ask Burzaco for tickets, because all the cool kids use WhatsApp.
Fox Sports Implicated
Among the TV broadcasters implicated in the first week was Fox Sports, primarily in relation to South American events and not necessarily the World Cup. The network has denied wrongdoing, but given how Fox was awarded the rights to the 2026 World Cup without even going through an open bidding process, it wouldn’t be surprising if at least some at the company knew what was going on.
While the ongoing FIFA corruption trials are focused on three figures who were arrested during FIFA raids in Zurich, there are a number of indicted officials who have evaded arrest and extradition. Jack Warner of Trinidad and Tobago, Marco Polo del Nero of Brazil, Nicolas Leoz of Paraguay and Ricardo Teixeira of Brazil won’t be visiting the United States any time soon for fear of being immediately arrested.
Warner and Teixeira are the biggest names on the list. Warner used to run CONCACAF and was banned for life by FIFA for misconduct during the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bids. (FIFA will ban people for life but can’t admit the voting was flawed and should be redone.) Teixeira is the former son-in-law of one-time FIFA president Joao Havelange and has a number of corruption allegations against him.
U.S. Soccer president (for now) Sunil Gulati was also mentioned in Burzaco’s testimony, as was PSG boss Nasser Al-Khelaifi, of Qatar. While Al-Khelaifi is under investigation in Switzerland for bribery linked to awarding beIN Sports (which he owns) rights to the 2026 and 2030 World Cups, Gulati has not been linked to any offenses at home or abroad.
After a wild first week of FIFA corruption trials in New York City, it’s hard to say what exactly will happen next. Chances are, it’ll be something nothing even an HBO writer could come up with.