Football: US releases three FIFA guilty plea transcripts

April 18, 2016
 NEW YORK — A U.S. judge released Monday transcripts of guilty pleas from three prominent defendants in the sweeping FIFA corruption investigation who confessed to crimes and agreed to pay $37.5 million in compensation.

Former FIFA vice president Jeffrey Webb, Argentinian-Italian marketing executive Alejandro Burzaco and Brazilian intermediary Jose Margulies pled guilty last year to racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering conspiracies.

U.S. prosecutors have in total accused 40 officials and marketing executives of soliciting and receiving tens of millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks in a case that has sparked an unprecedented crisis at FIFA.

The transcripts released Monday show three of them expressing regret and suggesting that bribes were standard practice. All three, who are confined to U.S. house arrest, will be sentenced for corruption in New York in June.

“I abused my position to obtain bribes and kickbacks for my personal benefit,” Webb, who suffers from a heart condition, told the judge in pleading guilty to seven counts and confessing to enriching himself from 2012-2014.

He said he was told in 2012 that sports marketing companies would offer “side payments” or bribes in exchange for commercial rights to soccer matches.

“I believed that such offers were common in this business,” he told the judge.

He confessed to receiving bribes for the sale of commercial rights for 2018 and 2022 World Cup qualifying matches, and in 2012, 2013 and 2014, including for the Copa America Centenario tournament, which will be held in June.

“I deeply regret my participation in this illegal conduct,” said the dual Cayman Islands-British citizen who was educated in the United States.

He confessed to conspiring to defraud his employers and conspiracy to commit money laundering offenses by transmitting money from the United States to front accounts in Panama, the Cayman Islands and elsewhere.

Electronic tagging

After his confession, the court last November lifted his security detail and allowed him to leave home in Georgia seven days a week from 8 am to 5 pm, ostensibly to care for his then 18-month-old son.

His wife is a doctor in Atlanta, making Webb “solely responsible” for their child, the court heard. “He is a busy man,” Judge Raymond Dearie said.

His freedom of movement was limited to a 20-mile (32-kilometer) radius and Webb was still subject to electronic tagging.

The documents, released following a request from U.S. media, were still heavily redacted in parts.

Burzaco, 51, the former chairman of the board of Torneos y Competencias S.A., an Argentine sports marketing company, also voiced regret.

“I was wrong,” he said, confessing to paying bribes and kickbacks totaling tens of millions of dollars to multiple soccer officials to obtain marketing rights to various tournaments.

“Torneos and I profited from these payments directly and indirectly by securing these rights,” he said.

Court papers complained last month that Webb kept up a millionaire lifestyle quaffing champagne, gambling and partying while under arrest at the U.S. home he may have purchased “with bribes and kickbacks.”

In a letter to the U.S. attorney’s office, FIFA’s lawyers requested an “immediate” audit of Webb’s funds and assets, expressing concern that he may not have fully disclosed them to the court.

Fifteen individuals have pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with U.S. prosecutors in exchange for a possible reduction in sentence.

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