The so-called ‘FIFAgate’ scandal shook the global football and broadcasting worlds this week, with heavy repurcussions in Latin America and Argentina, including alleged death threats and the suicide of a Kirchnerite-linked official.
Throughout the week the spotlight remained trained on Alejandro Burzaco, an Argentine former marketing executive with Torneos y Competencias who took the stand in a Brooklyn court. He testified that he was part of a 24-year scheme that involved at least US$150 million in bribes.
Julio Grondona, the long-time President of the Argentine Football Federation (AFA), who passed away in 2014, was allegedly paid US$15 million in bribes by Brazilian broadcaster Globo, Fox, and Mexico’s Televisa in exchange for TV rights for the 2026 and 2030 World Cups, Burzaco declared.
In court, as temperatures rose, he was allegedly threatened by one of the defendants who made slashing motions on his neck, leading the judge to tighten bail conditions on South American football official, Manuel Burga.
The dramatic twist in federal court in New York came after Burzaco spent the day accusing Burga and two other football official co-defendants of taking bribes in exchange for their help securing broadcasting and hosting rights for tournaments.
Burzaco testified that his firm gave Burga, the former president of Peru’s soccer federation, US$3.6 million in bribes during the course of their relationship. He claimed that when he agreed in 2015 to cooperate against officials charged in the case he became the target of death threats. After news of Burzaco’s cooperation broke in Argentina, his brother, a former law enforcement officer, called him with inside information that police in Buenos Aires province had received “an instruction to shut me down,” he testified, choking back tears. That meant something needed to be done “for me not to say anything in the US, including killing me,” he added.
Once Burzaco concluded his testimony and the jury had gone home for the day, prosecutors asked US District Judge Pamela Chen to jail Burga, saying he had left Burzaco visibly shaken by twice staring at him and using the slashing motion. A lawyer for Burga claimed his client was merely scratching his throat. The judgestopped 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.
The judge said that while one security video of the courtroom was inconclusive, she would return to it on Thursday after reviewing a second tape prosecutors say backs up their claim. “All the facts surrounding this give me grave concerns,” the judge said.
Earlier Wednesday, Burzaco testified that media giants Globo, of Brazil, and Televisa, of Mexico, teamed with a marketing firm to make a US$15-million bribe to Grondona to help them secure lucrative broadcasting rights to the World Cup in 2026 and 2030.
The ex-TyC CEO said that the deal was struck at a 2013 meeting in Zurich. Grondona was FIFA’s longtime finance committee chairman. Fox and Globo have denied any wrongdoing, while Televisa has declined to comment. None of those media companies is charged in the case. Burga, Jose Maria Marin and Juan Angel Napout have pleaded not guilty to charges they took part in a 24-year scheme involving at least US$150 million in bribes that secured broadcasting and hosting rights for soccer tournaments around the globe.
Burzaco has testified that, along with the US$3.6 million his firm gave Burga, it directed another US$9.7 million in bribes to Napout and US$2.7 million to Marin. More than 40 other officials, business executives and entities have been charged. Many, including Burzaco, have pleaded guilty in hopes of receiving reduced sentences.
One former Argentine government official killed himself Tuesday just hours after Burzaco testified that he, too, was involved in taking bribes. Jorge Delhon, a lawyer who worked on the Futbol para todos broadcasting scheme introduced by former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, jumped in front of a train in Lanus. A ministry official in Buenos Aires province confirmed the death.
“I love you all,” Delhon wrote in a suicide note to his family, an unnamed official told the Associated Press. “I can’t believe (what’s happening). ”Burzaco testified that he bribed Delhon and others, including Pablo Paladino, in exchange for TV production rights to soccer matches.
In other testimony Tuesday, Burzaco told the jury how Grondona, who died in 2014, claimed in several conversations that he was owed millions of dollars for his 2010 vote as a member of FIFA’s executive committee that helped Qatar land the World Cup, soccer’s most prestigious tournament.
The account appeared to back up persistent suspicions that the Qatar vote was rigged and the widespread knowledge that the influence of Grondona, the senior vicepresident at FIFA and head of the Argentine Football Association, was for sale.
Burzaco also seemed to confirm longheld allegations that FIFA bidding rules were broken by a vote-trading pact between Qatar’s bid for 2022 and the joint Spain-Portugal bid for 2018 hosting rights that Russia eventually won.
After Qatar’s vote victory, beating the United States in a final round ballot, unproven allegations were made that Qatar paid the Grondona-led Argentine soccer federation tens of millions of dollars. Burzaco said in court he could not verify the truth of allegations about Qatar.