Aging ex-Brazilian soccer boss gets four-year prison term

Former Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) president Jose Maria Marin, exits the Eastern District of New York US Courthouse in Brooklyn, New York. (Reuters pic)

MANHATTAN: After pocketing at least US$3 million in bribes from sports marketing executives, Brazilian soccer boss Jose Maria Marin and his wife embarked on shopping sprees that included dropping US$50,000 at Bulgari in Las Vegas and more than US$10,000 at Chanel in New York.

On Wednesday, a federal judge in Brooklyn, New York, cited his greed as a reason to impose a four-year prison term upon Marin, 86, saying he and fellow soccer bosses corrupted the sport. Marin, convicted in December along with Juan Angel Napout, 59, solicited tens of millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks for tournament broadcasting rights.

During the three-hour hearing, US District Judge Pamela Chen noted that Marin’s lawyers argued he should be spared prison, citing his background as the former governor of Brazil’s state of Sao Paulo in the 1980s. She said Marin was already a wealthy man worth at least US$10 million when he began soliciting bribes at age 79 and placed his current net worth at about US$14 million.

Fine, Forfeiture
“It’s difficult to reconcile this background as a public servant with the wantonly greedy soccer official who actively pursued more than US$10 million in illegal bribes,” Chen said. “Mr. Marin claims he loves this sport yet he and his co-conspirators were the very cancer on the sport he claims to love.”

Chen also ordered Marin — dressed in prison fatigues — to pay a US$1.2 million fine and forfeit the almost US$3.35 million worth of bribes he received. Chen said she will determine what other penalties he should face by November.

Marin’s lawyers asked to release him, citing his age and frail health. Marin then tearfully addressed the court. At one point, he turned to prosecutor Samuel Nitze, shouting, “I can die in prison but don’t take away my wife and my family’s inheritance!” The judge called a recess.

When Marin returned, he said, “I am sorry that anybody in the sport that I loved has been harmed.” He also asked to be reunited with his wife but acknowledged that she’d been too emotional to visit him in jail and had moved back to Brazil.

First Trial
Chen said prison was warranted because Marin, a lawyer, “should have known better, could have been someone who said no, and expose the corruption instead of putting out his hand and joining in the game.”

Marin and Napout were convicted of wire fraud and racketeering conspiracies. Marin, who had been living in a US$3.5 million apartment in New York’s Trump Tower, was jailed after the verdict because the judge declared him a flight risk.

The US trial was the first in a crackdown that began with a predawn raid at a Zurich hotel in 2015. The convictions follow guilty pleas from 24 people tied to Fifa, international soccer’s governing association. Fifteen others who’ve been charged are fighting extradition to the US.

Nitze urged Chen to impose a term of at least 10 years citing the intricacies of the long-running scheme that corrupted international soccer.

Seamier Side
Almost 30 witnesses were called during the six-week trial, including former sports-marketing executives who gave jurors a rare look into Fifa’s seamier side. They said that from 2010 until 2016 Napout accepted at least US$10.5 million in payoffs and Marin collected US$6.6 million.

Alejandro Burzaco, chief of sports-marketing company Torneos y Competencias SA, told jurors he paid at least 30 people more than US$160 million to secure broadcasting rights to South American tournaments and World Cup matches in 2026 and 2030. Burzaco, a former Citigroup Inc. banker, testified that the defendants were among at least six soccer officials who accepted payoffs.

Sports-marketing mogul Jose Hawilla, the founder of Traffic Sports International Inc. who was caught lying to the US in 2013, agreed to secretly record conversations for the Federal Bureau of Investigation and described paying bribes to multiple officials, dating to the 1990s.

Hawilla and Burzaco both pleaded guilty. Hawilla, who died in May at 74, had agreed to forfeit US$151 million. Burzaco awaits sentencing and has agreed, along with his company, to forfeit more than US$110 million.

Big Money
Prosecutors said it was the big money in international soccer that fueled the fraud. Fifa made more than US$700 million from the sale of broadcasting rights to the 2014 World Cup, while the organization’s revenue from 2011 to 2014 was in the billions of dollars, a witness testified.

The US case was a paper-trail whodunit, showing financial records that prosecutors said showed millions of dollars being funnelled from sports-marketing companies to offshore banks and shell corporations, eventually ending up in entities controlled by the defendants or surrogates.

Thousands of transactions passed through American financial institutions including Morgan Stanley and Citigroup in New York, while some secret recordings were made at New York’s LaGuardia Airport and in Brooklyn.

The case is US v. Napout, 15-cr-252, US District Court, Eastern District of New York (Brooklyn).