Cyprus Mail

Argentine exec in FIFA case pleads not guilty to U.S. charges

From left: Assistant U.S. Attorney Samuel P. Nitze, defense attorney Sean P. Casey, defendant Alejandro Burzaco, defense attorney John Couriel and U.S. Magistrate Judge Vera Scanlon are seen in a courtroom sketch in federal court in Brooklyn, New York

By Nate Raymond and Mica Rosenberg

THE former chairman of an Argentina-based sports marketing business, one of 14 people indicted in a corruption case that has roiled the football world’s governing body FIFA, has pleaded not guilty in a U.S. court.

Alejandro Burzaco, an Argentine businessman who was the former general manager and chairman of Torneos y Competencias SA, appeared in federal court in Brooklyn, New York, after being extradited to the United States from Italy.

According to an indictment unsealed on May 27, Burzaco faces U.S. charges including conspiracy to commit racketeering and conspiracy to commit wire fraud. He turned himself in to police in northern Italy on June 9 and is the third defendant to be arraigned on the indictment.

Burzaco, 51, was one of nine officials and five marketing executives accused by the U.S. Justice Department of exploiting the sport for their own gain through bribes of more than $150m over 24 years.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Vera Scanlon set Burzaco’s bond at $20m and authorised his release subject to travel restrictions and electronic monitoring.

Prosecutors said that Burzaco conspired with other marketing executives to funnel $110m in bribes to football officials to obtain the exclusive rights for the 2015, 2019, and 2023 editions of the Copa America and a tournament celebrating the contest’s 100th anniversary called the Copa America Centenario.

The bribes were allegedly doled out to officials from the regional federations CONMEBOL and CONCACAF, which group countries in the Western Hemisphere.

Prosecutors said a company formed by Burzaco and three co-conspirators agreed to make the payments over the life of the contract. At least $40m has been paid, the indictment in May said.

Referring to the alleged bribery scheme, prosecutors said that Burzaco told his co-conspirators in May 2014: “All can get hurt because of this subject. All of us go to prison.”

Jeffrey Webb, a former FIFA vice president and president of CONCACAF, was extradited from Switzerland this month and pleaded not guilty.

Webb is under house arrest after securing a $10m bond with properties and luxury goods like 11 designer watches, his wife’s diamond wedding ring, and expensive cars including a 2015 Ferrari.

Aaron Davidson, who was the head of Brazilian sports marketing company Traffic Group’s U.S. unit in Miami, had been arrested in Miami when the indictment was announced. Davidson pleaded not guilty, and U.S. officials recently disclosed he was in plea negotiations.

Four other individuals, including Chuck Blazer, a former FIFA executive committee member, secretly pleaded guilty before the case was announced as prosecutors sought to obtain cooperating witnesses.

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