A former government official killed himself yesterday after being accused of taking bribes in explosive testimony looking into corruption in world soccer.
Jorge Delhon, 52, a lawyer who worked in the administration of former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner on the Futbol para todos scheme, killed himself on Tuesday by jumping in front of a train in Buenos Aires. A government official in Buenos Aires province confirmed the death, but could not be identified because of not being authorised to speak on the subject. Local outlets all printed reports confirming his death.
The tragedy comes off the back of explosive testimony in the United States related to the so-called ‘FIFAgate’ corruption scandal.
In the trial in New York, former TyC executive Alejandro Burzaco told a judge on Tuesday he had paid millions in bribes to Delhon and Pablo Paladino in exchange for broadcasting rights to soccer matches. Burzaco also alleged that late AFA chief Julio Grondona had received million of dollars in bribes.
Paladino worked for the government-run TV show that broadcasts local football matches, Futbol para Todos (“Football for All”).
The ministry official, contacted by The Associated Press, said Delhon left a suicide note that read in Spanish: "I love you all," and added "I can't believe (what's happening)."
The Fernández de Kirchner administration, which ended in 2015, created the free-to-air scheme which broadcast matches on Argentine public television. It was used it largely as a way to promote her government. President Mauricio Macri promised to end the scheme during his successful election campaign, but eventually reneged on that vow, only ending it after the recent midterm election campaign last month.
Earlier this year an Argentine court opened criminal proceedings against two of Fernández de Kirchner’s former chiefs-of-staff - Aníbal Fernández and Jorge Capitanich - for allegedly taking public funds earmarked for Futbol para Todos.
Burzaco, who is still giving testimony in the United States, has shook the football and broadcasting worlds with his testimony. An influential and experienced sports marketing executive, he has been party to many behind-doors conversations and his allegations in court reflected that. The second day of his testimony was postponed briefly on Wednesday after news of the suicide reached the US.
Delhon was cited on Tuesday as part of the corruption scheme by Burzaco, though he was only mentioned once in testimony. The former TyC executive, who is the first witness to give evidence in the trial, painted a damning picture of corruption in South American football in his testimony, saying millions of dollars in bribes were paid for TV rights to major tournaments.
Burzaco pleaded guilty in November 2015 to racketeering, wire fraud and money-laundering conspiracies and agreed to pay US$21.6 million in restitution.
In US federal court, he detailed how Torneos y Competencias S.A. paid bribes to South American Football Confederation (CONMEBOL) executives for more than a decade to secure television rights to major tournaments.
Payments were sent by wire transfer to Swiss bank accounts or passed on as cash "in bags or envelopes," Burzaco added.
Fox Pan American Sports, part of 21st Century Fox, Brazil's TV Globo, Argentine group Full Play and Spain's MediaPro were among those who paid – all partners of Torneos y Competencias.
Burzaco also said the Clarín Group had not been involved in the payment of any bribes, despite the fact that the others had.
Fox Sports' parent company, 21st Century Fox, did not immediately respond to a request to comment.
Largest graft scandal
The FIFA corruption trial began Monday, two and a half years after the United States unveiled the largest graft scandal in the history of world football. Three South American defendants are in the dock, charged with racketeering, wire fraud and money-laundering conspiracies. They are José Maria Marin, ex-head of Brazil's Football Confederation, former FIFA vice president Juan Ángel Napout, who was elected president of CONMEBOL in 2014, and Manuel Burga, who led soccer in Peru until 2014.
Burzaco said he bribed all three defendants, alleging that Marin received payments of US$300,000, going up to US$450,000 a year.
The trial is due to last five to six weeks, and prosecutors are expected to present hundreds of thousands of pages of evidence and dozens of witnesses.
If convicted by a jury, they risk up to 20 years behind bars for the most serious offences.
But much of Burzaco's most damning testimony implicated men not on trial in New York, including ex-South American soccer boss Nicolas Leoz, and his deputies Ricardo Teixeira and Julio Grondona, the late former FIFA vice-president and head of the Argentine Football Association (AFA) known as ‘Don Julio.’
The three of them would have received around US$600,000 a year in bribes, he said.
Grondona died in 2014 and while Leoz is under house arrest in Paraguay, his lawyers have so far frustrated all attempts to extradite him.
Leoz, Grondona and Teixeira, former president of the Brazilian Football Confederation, were given "presidential treatment," he said.
They were whisked around by private jet, with "three or four Mercedes" parked on the tarmac ready and waiting on arrival at CONMEBOL headquarters.
"They had presidential or diplomatic or royal treatment," Burzaco testified. "Like a special dignitary, there were no customs, no immigration."
He also told how they were paid for their votes on the executive committee for choosing hosts of the World Cup.
When Leoz failed to vote for Qatar to host the 2022 World Cup at FIFA headquarters in December 2010, Teixeira and Grondona rounded on him, Burzaco testified.
"They shook him up. They asked: 'What are you doing? Are you the one not voting for Qatar?'" he quoted them as saying.
A month later, Grondona received US$1 million from Teixeira for voting for Qatar, Burzaco said.
The defendants are just three of the 42 officials and marketing executives, not to mention three companies, indicted in an exhaustive 236-page complaint detailing 92 separate crimes and 15 corruption schemes to the tune of $200 million.
Defence lawyers admit widespread corruption at FIFA, but say there is no evidence that their clients were involved, and will seek to discredit government witnesses who are likely to include those who cut plea bargain deals in the case.