Officials from South American football's governing body CONMEBOL were paid more than US$32 million in bribes as part of the corruption scandal that rocked FIFA, a New York court heard on Wednesday.
Argentine businessman Alejandro Burzaco told a federal court in Brooklyn that he and two former television executives had funnelled kickbacks to CONMEBOL chiefs to secure lucrative broadcasting rights.
Burzaco is testifying for the prosecution after pleading guilty to involvement in the scandal that ultimately led to the downfall of former FIFA President Josep 'Sepp' Blatter in 2015.
Burzaco said he and former Fox executives Hernán López and Carlos Martínez had paid bribes using a joint venture, T&T Cayman.
López, Martínez and a South American company named Full Play, are on trial for corruption, bank fraud and money laundering.
Burzaco said Wednesday the defendants had paid out between "US$30-32 million" in bribes to secure rights to South American football competitions such as the Copa Libertadores, as well as friendlies and qualifying matches.
Burzaco said as much as US$60 million in bribes had been budgeted, but the full amount was not paid because the eruption of the FIFA scandal in 2015 had interrupted the scheme.
The court heard that the main beneficiaries of the kickback scheme were six of the most powerful men in South American football. They included former CONMEBOL president Nicolás Leoz, who died in 2019, former Argentine football executive Julio Grondona, who died in 2014, and former Brazilian football chief Ricardo Teixeira.
Leoz, Grondona and Teixeira were also members of the FIFA executive committee in 2010 that controversially awarded the 2018 World Cup to Russia and the 2022 finals to Qatar in a vote tainted by corruption.
Other South American officials who received bribes were CONMEBOL vice president Eugenio Figueredo, secretary general Eduardo Deluca, and treasurer Romer Osuna, according to Burzaco.
"We bribed all these gentlemen and I participated in this scheme," said Burzaco, who has pleaded guilty and reached an agreement with the US court that included paying a fine of at least US$21.6 million.
Asked why the group of six were targeted for bribes, Burzaco told the court: "They were key members of CONMEBOL."
Burzaco added that Grondona was viewed as "a pope" given his positions within FIFA and South American football.