International review Investigation

Fifa trial: ex-president of Peru soccer acquitted of corruption charge

Manuel Burga leaves court in Brooklyn, New York Tuesday. Source: Seth Wenig/AP.

This material belongs to: The Guardian.

Manuel Burga wept after jurors found him not guilty of a single racketeering conspiracy charge, in a bribery scandal that saw two officials convicted last week.

A former South American soccer official was acquitted Tuesday of a corruption charge stemming from the Fifa bribery scandal after two others were convicted last week.

The acquittal caps a trial in which US prosecutors sought to expose a culture of greed and corruption among the powerful men who oversee the world’s most popular sport.

Jurors found Manuel Burga, the 60-year-old former president of Peru’s soccer federation, not guilty of a single racketeering conspiracy charge. Burga wept when the acquittal was announced.

On Friday, jurors told US district court Judge Pamela Chen they were deadlocked but had reached guilty verdicts on multiple charges against two other former officials: Juan Napout, of Paraguay, and Jose Maria Marin, of Brazil. Chen gave jurors the holiday weekend to think about Burga’s case.

The judge had jailed Marin, 85, and Napout, 59, after their convictions Friday.

The two were acquitted on some lesser charges. Burga, meanwhile, was waiting on his passport to return home.

Marin, Burga and Napout had been arrested in 2015. Prosecutors accused them of agreeing to take millions of dollars in bribes from businessmen seeking to lock up lucrative media rights or influence hosting rights for the World Cup and other major tournaments controlled by Fifa.

Burga was the first person to be acquitted among the more than 40 people and entities in the world of global soccer charged in the US in connection with an investigation that uncovered hundreds of millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks. Of those, 24 pleaded guilty in addition to the two convictions Friday.

World soccer’s governing body had said last week it would seek compensation and a share of the cash. “As the jury has found a number of defendants guilty of the charged crimes, Fifa will now take all necessary steps to seek restitution and recover any losses caused by their misconduct,” according to a statement from Fifa.

During the trial, the defense argued that the men were innocent bystanders framed by untrustworthy cooperators angling for leniency in their own cases. Burga’s lawyer claimed there was no proof he took bribes.

“I would submit to you that never has more been made of less evidence,” said Burga’s lawyer, Bruce Udolf.

Burga got some unwanted attention early in the trial when prosecutors claimed he unnerved the government’s star witness, a former marketing executive from Argentina, by directing a threatening gesture at him – running his fingers across his throat in a slicing motion. The lawyer claimed his client was merely scratching his throat, but the judge took the incident seriously enough to tighten Burga’s house arrest conditions.