NEW YORK – The Fifa corruption trial is to get under way with opening statements in New York on Monday, two and a half years after US prosecutors unveiled the largest graft scandal in the history of world soccer.
Forty-two officials and marketing executives, and three companies were indicted in an exhaustive 236-page complaint detailing 92 separate crimes and 15 corruption schemes to the tune of $200 million.
Yet only three of them are going on trial – three fabulously-wealthy and once-powerful soccer officials from South America, charged with racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering conspiracies.
Their fate will be decided by an anonymous jury, chosen after documented attempts at intimidation. The 12-member panel with six alternates was selected after four days of screening last week.
Opening statements are scheduled to begin on Monday at the US federal court in Brooklyn.
The most high-profile defendant is Jose Maria Marin, 85, former president of Brazil’s Football Confederation – the sport’s organising body in one of the premier soccer-playing nations in the world.
Since extradition after his 2015 arrest by Swiss police in a five-star hotel, he has been out on bail, living in luxury at Trump Tower, the Fifth Avenue skyscraper best known for housing the penthouse and company headquarters of the US president.
Also in the dock is former Fifa vice president Juan Angel Napout, 59, and Manuel Burga, who led soccer in Peru until 2014 and once served as a Fifa development committee member.
All three pleaded not guilty.
The trial is due to last five to six weeks, and prosecutors are expected to present 350 000 pages of evidence and dozens of witnesses.
If convicted, they will be sentenced by Judge Pamela Chen. The most serious counts each carry a maximum sentence of 20 years.
US prosecutors first announced the indictments on May 27, 2015, lifting the lid on a quarter of a century of endemic corruption in the heart of Fifa, soccer’s governing body.
Twenty-four defendants have already pleaded guilty, and two of them were last month sentenced to jail.
While the US investigation did not indict ex-Fifa president Sepp Blatter, he was thrown out of the sport in 2015 after Fifa’s ethics committee found him guilty of accepting an improper two million Swiss francs (about $2.1 million) payment from then-Uefa chief Michel Platini.
Blatter was banned from soccer for six years, and Platini, his former heir apparent, for four years.AFP