A banker-turned-sports marketing executive who admitted paying tens of millions of dollars in bribes to corrupt Latin American football officials was spared from prison after serving as the star witness at two FIFA corruption trials.
On Friday, Alejandro Burzaco was instead given credit for the time he spent incarcerated.
Burzaco, who was born and raised in Argentina and once worked as an investment banker for Citigroup Inc. in New York, was charged by US prosecutors in 2015 and later cooperated with them to expose a sprawling fraud at the highest levels of FIFA, soccer’s governing body.
At the first trial, in 2017, special precautions to protect witnesses and jurors didn’t stop one defendant from making a slicing motion across his throat while Burzaco was on the stand, temporarily halting the proceeding when the witness broke down. Burzaco also faced aggressive questioning from defence lawyers who tried to portray him as a liar.
At a second trial this year, Burzaco spent 11 days on the stand, describing how he conspired with two former 21st Century Fox executives to bribe football officials to win the lucrative TV rights to the continent’s biggest annual tournament and help land broadcasting rights to the World Cup. He said Rupert Murdoch was so grateful he sent a complimentary note to one of the FIFA bosses. Fox wasn’t charged.
Two of the three football officials on trial in 2017 were convicted, and one of the former Fox executives was found guilty in March along with a Uruguayan sports marketing company.
Their trials stemmed from an international crackdown on cheating at FIFA that burst on the scene with a predawn raid at a luxury Zurich hotel in May 2015. The investigation brought down some of the biggest names in the sport, including Joseph 'Sepp' Blatter, who was ousted as FIFA’s president after 17 years in the role.
Overall, the government’s investigation netted more than two dozen guilty pleas from people accused of participating in a global, 24-year conspiracy to bribe high-ranking soccer officials with six-figure sums for broadcast and media rights. Four corporate entities also pleaded guilty.
by Patricia Hurtado, Bloomberg