FIFA trial defence lawyers grill key government witness

Juan Angel Napout, center, arrives at federal court in the Brooklyn borough of New York, Thursday, Nov. 16, 2017. He is one of three former South American soccer officials who are going on trial in a U.S. case highlighting widespread corruption in the sport's governing body. (Craig Ruttle/AP)

NEW YORK — Defence attorneys began cross-examining a key government witness at the U.S. trial of three former South American soccer officials charged in the FIFA bribery scandal Thursday, while a judge reviews claims that a defendant made a slashing motion across his throat at the former marketing executive.

A lawyer for Juan Angel Napout, the ex-president of Paraguay’s soccer federation, pressed Alejandro Burzaco on Thursday about whether he personally paid any bribes to Napout.

Burzaco testified that he never directly gave money to Napout. He said that millions of dollars in bribes were instead channeled through various business entities before reaching the defendant.

Napout and the other soccer officials have pleaded not guilty to racketeering conspiracy and other charges. They’re accused of taking part in a 24-year international scheme involving $150 million in bribes in exchange for lucrative broadcasting and hosting rights for soccer tournaments.

U.S. District Judge Pamela Chen has been scrutinizing video that prosecutors say backs their claim that Manuel Burga, the former president of Peru’s soccer federation, made a threatening gesture Wednesday while staring at Burzaco. The defence said Burga was merely scratching his neck.

The judge tightened bail conditions on Burga on Wednesday and the issue was tabled on Thursday while testimony resumed.

The judge stopped short of locking up Burga, instead cutting off his access of phones and computers and placing him under house arrest at a home in Brooklyn. Burga already had been on GPS monitoring but had some privileges to leave the home.


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