The FIFA Trial: Week Three 

by | Dec 4, 2017

Another day, another (multi-million) dollar (bribe story) at the “Fifa Trial” in New York’s Brooklyn Federal Courthouse, inevitably and dismally labelled “Fifa-Gate,” for the hard of thinking.

The higher the bribes and laundered money, the more incredible it is (in the literal and pejorative sense) that disgraced ex-Fifa president Sepp Blatter knew nothing about any of it. Did he and Fifa’s Executive Committee (ExCo) not receive financial analyses of the various rights attached to South American federation Conmebol, (Conme for, appropriate, short) World Cup qualifiers? Or, as with the detailed technical report into the bids to host the 2022 finals, did the ExCo simply ignore them?

First into week three’s witness box was Luis Bedoya, who presided over Colombia’s federation from 2006-15, vice-presided over Conme and sat on Fifa’s (Blatter’s) ExCo from 2014 until November 2015, when he “waived indictment” and admitted to the usual “racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering conspiracies.” He faced “maximum terms of incarceration of 20 years” until he approached prosecutors in July, looking for a sentence-reducing deal. And Fifa’s up-to-the-minute Ethics Committee banned him from football forever, in May 2016, for five such offences.

Bedoya’s testimony followed a familiar pattern. Multi-million-dollar tales of bribery and corruption, introducing new names, tearing apart old ones and leaving key names out entirely. In return, he had his character assassinated by one defence lawyer, although, unlike Alejandro Burzaco in week one, there was no forgetting Bedoya was as reprehensible a character as those against whom he was testifying.

Qatar’s integrity took another booting. Bedoya told of an un-named “important person” in Qatari TV, who approached him at a Madrid hotel in May 2010 (where the Conme veep was, naturally, in town to watch Internazionale beat Bayern Munich 2-0 in the…er…Uefa Champions League final), alongside “co-star” of a previous trial episode, Mariana Jinkis, co-owner of Argentine sports marketers, the “Full Play” group.

This international-man-of-mystery was also introduced to Paraguayan defendant Juan Angel Napout and Ecuadorian football chief and fellow-indictee Luis Chiriboga. He asked the terrible triad if South America was “willing to support” Qatar in the World Cup host vote that December (this was probably not ex-Fifa vice-president Mohammed bin Hammam with a false nose and glasses, although with Fifa… He was Qatar’s supposed briber-in-chief. And bid team members said he was its “biggest asset,” and unconnected to it “officially or unofficially.” Master of disguise, then).

I digress. When the Qatari left the Madrid conclave, Jinkis told the trio how “important” the bid was for “business.” Especially the “business” of the “$10-15m” bribe he “could ask for” and divide between them and the three other chiefs of the “group of six” smaller federations (Venezuela’s Rafael Esquivel, Bolivia’s Carlos Chavez and our old friend, defendant and occasional dermatitis sufferer Manuel Burga) who had informally formed an alliance to pursue their bribes, collective financial interests.

It is indicative of the “power” of this group (aka “los muchachos,” the “boys”) that they were targets for such bribery and that the mystery Qatari should approach three of them when none were ExCo members, the only people voting on the bids. Remarkably, though, this bribe offer was rejected. Napout said the issue was “too complicated, you shouldn’t get into it.” And, given the Zurich toilet shenanigans surrounding Conme boss Nicolas Leoz’s vote (see last article), he was probably right.

Famous US sports brand Nike were less averse to a bribe, Bedoya suggested, “just do it” allegedly summarising their strategy to financial inducement. Bedoya said he met a(nother) ‘un-named’ but “high-ranking” official in Argentina (Bedoya shares US Attorney-General Jeff “I don’t recall” Sessions’ memory issues) who offered him a “personal payment” for arranging Nike sponsorship of the Colombian national team’s kit. Bedoya couldn’t recall how much. Of course. And the Colombian federation chose Adidas, who Bedoya said did not offer a bribe.

This curious, half-told tale seemed destined to be a mere aside (BuzzFeed reporter Ken Bensinger tweeted his surprise that the story “didn’t create more waves”). But a Nike statement issued by spokesperson Ilana Finley kept it alive: “Nike believes in ethical and fair play in both business and sport and strongly opposes any form of manipulation or bribery. We have been cooperating, and will continue to cooperate, with the authorities.”

“Doesn’t exactly read like a denial,” Bensinger noted darkly and correctly. And it soon emerged that Nike had said the exact same thing after 2015 claims by the US Justice Department that the sportswear firm had tried to bribe its way into sponsorship deals with CBF, Brazil’s almost perma-corruptible football federation.

Bedoya’s personal and testimonial credibility received spirited cross-examination from the usual suspects, Juan Angel Napout’s and Manuel Burga’s attorneys Silvia Piñera-Vazquez and Bruce Udolf. He admitted that Napout told him he was worried that he would “be exposed.” Burga said “he didn’t know how to receive money of this type.” But Charles Stillman had nothing to do as Bedoya had nothing “on” his client, last-but-one CBF chief Jose Maria Marin. “One wonders when the prosecution will make its case against (Marin),” Bensinger wondered to his twitter followers.

Piñera-Vazquez went for her usual character-assassination, accusing Bedoya of being “a magnet for bribes,” (hardly news in this trial). He denied this, while acknowledging that football’s “environment lends itself” to such “situations.” She was fascinated by his bribe-storage Swiss bank account, which he kept secret from his wife but NOT from his fellow-defendants, admitting that “on this issue, yes” he trusted them more than he trusted Mrs B.

On June 1st 2015, Bedoya infamously told a press conference in Colombian capital Bogota that “there is no secret bank account.” This was as specific and comprehensive a lie as the Spanish language allowed. And when it was uncovered that November, by Colombian daily newspaper El Tiempo, eight-year veteran bribe-taker Bedoya fled his native land “for his safety.”

Piñera-Vazquez naturally portrayed this as the grubby flight from Colombian justice it was and zoned in on the comfort, and US taxpayer-funding, of the Bedoya family’s “two-bedroom, two-bathroom” accommodation. Whether this will cast the desired doubt on his evidence remains unclear. Jurors must decide if witnesses are telling the whole truth and nothing but the truth, however many bed/bathrooms are involved.

But in Brooklyn, “Juror no.9’s” decision was to get some sleep (one person’s drama is another person’s drudgery, I guess). “As I’m speaking to you, you’re yawning,” presiding Judge Pamela Chen told him despairingly, after defence attorneys, a tad belatedly, moved to dismiss the ice-hockey-loving Rip Van Winkle for dozing through huge chunks of the proceedings. “We need the full attention of any juror,” Chen told the physical manifestation of New Yorkers’ alleged unconcern with soccer. “He may take it as good news,” noted prosecution attorney Sam Nitze, correctly.

Alejandro Burzaco, sports marketing firm Torneos y Competencias CEO, was a star witness. But “mere” Torneos administrator José Eladio Rodriguez was an important one. Ex-Argentine navy man Rodriguez, not a football fan despite (because of?) 24 years at Torneos, was the bribe co-ordinator and the media’s first true opportunity to incorporate “bagman” into their narratives.

Rodriguez also gave them the first opportunity since the trial’s opening remarks, to plop Marin into their narratives. Marin’s name co-starred in Rodriguez’s “ledger” of dodgy payments, kept on a server in Uruguay, far from Torneos’ official accounts.

Records for 7th June 2013 showed $1.8m moving from Torneos to Marin and current CBF president Marco Polo del Nero, related to rights to the Copa Libertadores, South America’s “Champions League.” Twenty-eight days later, $3m made the same journey, related to rights to the Copa America, South America’s “Euros.” These payments appeared as “Brasileiro,”

But, as ever, the “Pope” appeared to receive the biggest whopping great wads of cash. And it usually was cash for Fifa vice-president and…this one never ages…its FINANCE committee chair, Argentina’s Julio Grondona, who died in July 2014. In his last full year on earth, ledger entries for Grondona totalled $4.575m.

Argentine government initiative “Football for All” (Futbol para Todas, FpT), was laudably designed to broadcast some Argentine football to “all,” subscription-free, especially with pay-per-view subs at bribe-funding rates. But from January 2013 to June 2014, Torneos paid FpT $3,103,592 for services of uncertain legitimacy. Rodriguez testified that “in recent years” payments to FpT went “to Mr. Jorge Delhón,” the Argentine lawyer who reportedly committed suicide, hours after Burzaco testified about his role.

Almost anyone who was anyone in “Conme” benefitted from Torneos largesse, bribes labelled “Illuminados,” (“the enlightened ones,” there’s irony). The bribes’ “purpose” was “to maintain a fluid relationship with Conmebol.” Torneos used companies in the Cayman Islands and the Netherlands to facilitate a bribery payment process.

Rodriguez testified that on 27th May 2015 (“Indictment Day,” for future word-count-limit purposes), he witnessed the shredding of relevant documents at Torneos’ Buenos Aires offices. And the Uruguay server also breathed its last. However, not before Rodriguez emailed relevant information to…himself.

Defence attorneys objected to the inclusion of this info as evidence, arguing that Rodriguez had not emailed himself “in furtherance of the conspiracy” itself. Indeed, these emails were more “in furtherance” of gathering evidence with which to negotiate a deal with prosecutors, negotiations Rodriguez concluded eight months ago.

Presiding Judge Chen ruled that such evidence had been admissible in past cases and would be here. And when defence attorneys belly-ached about other similar evidence emerging after Burzaco’s testimony had finished, she said they could recall the former Torneos CEO if necessary, about which he will surely be pleased, especially if defendant Manuel Burga’s dermatitis plays up again (see week one).

The prosecution surprised observers, Judge Chen included, by suggesting that they will finish within days. This seemed more remarkable given the recorded evidence the prosecution introduced late on Friday of telephone conversations between sports marketing company owners Jose Hawilla and Kleber Leite, in which they discussed paying bribes to the last three CBF presidents.Nessa gravação, segundo a transcrição lida pelo promotor Samuel Nitze no tribunal, Hawilla teria perguntado a Leite:

But whenever this trial finishes, you won’t need reminding that everyone testifying, and nearly everyone being testified about, is a ***. Especially after a tweet from Brazil’s Globo newspaper journalist Martin Fernandez. His original Portuguese may have been more powerful than the too-literal translation by “Bing,” the Betamax (ask your parents) of search engines. But his point was powerful enough regardless.

Fernandez railed at bribes to “top hats” to ensure big clubs played big names in “tournaments like the Sudamericana…exactly one year after 71 people died because a club wanted to save money on a trip to a Copa Sudamericana game,” a reference to Brazilian team Chapecoense, whose plane crashed en route to last year’s final in Colombia, with only three players surviving.

So, tales of greed beyond reason and requirement continue to be told, undefended beyond “prove our guys did it.” Unseen by Blatter, who formally presided over it all.

As Juror no.9 would say, the trial continuezzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz…