Fifa of­fi­cial took bribes to back Qatar's 2022 World Cup bid, court hears

The Guardian Australia - - Sport - Oliver Laugh­land in New York

A se­nior Fifa of­fi­cial took at least $1m in bribes to vote for Qatar to host the 2022 World Cup, a wit­ness tes­ti­fied in court on Tues­day, as part of a broad in­ves­ti­ga­tion into cor­rup­tion at Fifa.

Julio Gron­dona, a se­nior vi­cepres­i­dent at Fifa and head of the Ar­gen­tinian foot­ball as­so­ci­a­tion un­til his death in 2014, al­legedly told the wit­ness, Ale­jan­dro Burzaco, an Ar­gen­tinian sports mar­ket­ing ex­ec­u­tive, that he was owed the money in ex­change for his vote, which helped Qatar se­cure the lu­cra­tive tour­na­ment.

Qatar’s vic­tory, an­nounced in De­cem­ber 2010 af­ter four rounds of knock­out vot­ing by Fifa’s 22-per­son ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee in Zurich, has been plagued with al­le­ga­tions of bribery and mis­con­duct. The sworn tes­ti­mony, given in a New York City court on Tues­day, is some of the strong­est ev­i­dence the 2022 vote was tainted.

Burzaco, the for­mer CEO of the Ar­gen­tinian sports mar­ket­ing ex­ec­u­tive Tor­neos y Com­pe­ten­cias, has al­ready pleaded guilty to hand­ing out mil­lions of dol­lars in bribes to se­nior South Amer­i­can foot­ball of­fi­cials in ex­change for broad­cast rights to ma­jor re­gional tour­na­ments.

His tes­ti­mony on Tues­day al­leges a sus­tained pro­gram of an­nual and one-off bribes, of­ten over $1m a time, to a group of in­flu­en­tial ex­ec­u­tives on South Amer­ica’s foot­balling body, Con­mebol, over a pe­riod of around a decade.

Burzaco tes­ti­fied that while he was ar­rang­ing a $1m bribe pay­ment to Gron­dona and an­other $1m bribe to an­other se­nior Fifa ex­ec­u­tive, Ri­cardo Teix­eira, Gron­dona in­formed Burzaco he had taken a bribe for his World Cup vote. In to­tal, the for­mer ex­ec­u­tive said, he had ar­ranged $15m in bribes for se­cur­ing the rights to Copa Amer­ica, which at that point were held by a ri­val mar­ket­ing com­pany.

Burzaco said that Gron­dona told him in Jan­uary 2011 to also pay him Teix­e­ria’s $1m Copa Amer­ica bribe, which the Brazil­ian “owed him” as “Gron­dona voted for Qatar to host the 2022 World Cup”.

The mar­ket­ing ex­ec­u­tive had ac­com­pa­nied Gron­dona, Teix­e­ria and Ni­colás Leoz, then the Con­mebol pres­i­dent, to Zurich for the vote in 2010 and had heard of their in­ten­tion to back Qatar.

“It was not a pri­vate thing,” Burzaco said.

As the vot­ing got un­der way, Burzaco said Gron­dona told him that Leoz had ini­tially voted for Ja­pan and then South Korea. Dur­ing a break, he and Teix­e­ria then pulled Leoz aside to “shake him up” and ask: “What the hell are you do­ing? Are you the one not vot­ing for Qatar?” When the of­fi­cials re­turned for the next vote, Leoz backed Qatar, Burzaco said.

The for­mer mar­ket­ing ex­ec­u­tive said that Gron­dona had not told him the to­tal amount of money he ac­cepted to make the Qatar vote or who the source of the bribe was. But he claimed to have wit­nessed an al­ter­ca­tion be­tween Gron­dona and Qatari of­fi­cials at a Fifa event months later where the foot­ball ex­ec­u­tive was fu­ri­ous at news re­ports im­pli­cat­ing him in cor­rupt deal­ings and in­sin­u­ated he had been un­der­paid for his vote.

“Ba­si­cally, Gron­dona told them [the Qatari of­fi­cials]: you will pay me $80m or write a let­ter say­ing you never paid me,” Burzaco said.

Burzaco’s ev­i­dence por­trayed the Ar­gen­tinian ex­ec­u­tive as a king­maker in Con­mebol’s al­legedly cor­rupt en­ter­prise. The mar­ket­ing ex­ec­u­tive said Gron­dona per­son­ally ap­proved the bribes he and five other se­nior Con­mebol of­fi­cials were paid for re­gional tour­na­ment rights, of­ten dic­tat­ing the amounts – fre­quently seven-fig­ure sums – and tak­ing cuts for him­self.

Burzaco would fre­quently travel with Gron­dona from Ar­gentina to Con­mebol’s head­quar­ters in Luque in Paraguay, where “three or four Mercedes” would wait for them by the run­way and take them straight from the plane, al­low­ing them to skip cus­toms, as “some­one would take care of that”.

When Gron­dona ar­rived at the head­quar­ters, Leoz would fly “forty or fifty Ar­gen­tine flags around the build­ing” to greet him. Teix­e­ria, who re­signed as pres­i­dent of Brazil’s fed­er­a­tion amid cor­rup­tion al­le­ga­tions in 2012, would re­ceive the same treat­ment.

Burzaco’s tes­ti­mony, which is ex­pected to con­tinue into Wed­nes­day, also im­pli­cated the three for­mer foot­ball ex­ec­u­tives, José Maria Marin, Manuel Burga and Juan Án­gel Napout, cur­rently on trial.

The three for­mer of­fi­cials, some of whom went on to re­place Gron­dona, Teix­e­ria and Leoz at the head of Con­mebol, deny their role in the 24-year scheme in­volv­ing at least $150m in bribes.

As his tes­ti­mony com­menced on Tues­day morn­ing, Burzaco was asked to point out the three de­fen­dants in the court­room while tes­ti­fy­ing that he bribed all of them.

The wit­ness de­scribed a se­ries of meet­ing at ho­tels and restau­rants in Buenos Aires start­ing in 2012 in which he helped strike deals for an­nual six-fig­ure bribes for Marin, who re­placed Teix­e­ria as pres­i­dent of Brazil’s soc­cer fed­er­a­tion; Burga, for­mer pres­i­dent of Peru’s soc­cer fed­er­a­tion; and Napout, ex-head of Paraguay’s soc­cer fed­er­a­tion.

Af­ter one meet­ing where ar­range­ments were made to wire Marin a por­tion of a $2m bribe, Marin “gave me a hug and showed me his grat­i­tude”, Burzaco said. At an­other, Burga “told me he was happy col­lect­ing the bribes”, he said.

Af­ter be­ing charged in 2015, fol­low­ing a morn­ing raid on a ho­tel in Zurich, Burzaco tes­ti­fied that he briefly went into hid­ing be­fore de­cid­ing to turn him­self in and co­op­er­ate.

“I said, ‘Ale­jan­dro, you go to the United States and face jus­tice,’” he said about the de­ci­sion. “‘Ac­cept re­spon­si­bil­ity.’”

The for­mer mar­ket­ing ex­ec­u­tive also claimed that sev­eral of the re­gion’s best-known broad­cast­ers that he had part­nered with had paid bribes to foot­ball of­fi­cials to se­cure rights to games. This in­cluded Fox Sports, part­nered with Burzaco in the T amp;T sports mar­ket­ing com­pany, which owned the rights to the Copa Lib­er­ta­dores. Fox held a 75% share ofT amp;T from 2005, Burzaco said.

The court was pre­sented with a sham con­tract writ­ten by T amp;T Sports and signed by the for­mer Fox Pan Amer­i­can Sports chief oper­at­ing of­fi­cer James Gan­ley, which Burzaco said was cre­ated to pay out $3.7m in bribes to Con­mebol of­fi­cials to keep the rights to the tour­na­ment.

Fox Sports de­nied that the com­pany had been aware of or ap­proved bribes, say­ing in a state­ment: “Fox Sports had no op­er­a­tional con­trol of the en­tity which Burzaco ran. The en­tity run by Burzaco was a sub­sidiary of Fox Pan Amer­i­can Sports, which in 2008, at the time of the con­tract in ques­tion, was ma­jor­ity owned by a pri­vate eq­uity firm and un­der their op­er­a­tional and man­age­ment con­trol.”

The trial con­tin­ues.

Sepp Blat­ter, right, and Sheikh Ha­mad bin Khal­ifa Al-Thani, Emir of Qatar, with the World Cup tro­phy af­ter Qatar was an­nounced as the host for 2022. Pho­to­graph: Wal­ter Bieri/EPA

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.