By Paul Nicholson
December 27 – Former Peru football boss Manuel Burga, 60, has been acquitted of a corruption charge by the Brooklyn jury that found Juan Napout, of Paraguay, and Jose Maria Marin, of Brazil guilty of similar charges before Christmas.
Burga (pictured right) was charged with racketeering conspiracy and accused of having plotted to collect $4.4 million in bribes in exchange for marketing and broadcast rights to matches. He had denied all charges against him.
The former FIFA development executive who served as the president of the Peruvian football federation for 12 years until 2014, was extradited from Peru to the US in June 2016 after Peruvian president Pedro Pablo Kuczynski signed off Burga’s extradition five months after a Peruvian court found that the request from the New York court was substantiated.
Specifically the Peruvian court ruled that US prosecutors’ charges of money laundering and electronic fraud were not grounds for extradition, but the charge of criminal conspiracy was.
Before Christmas the jury had said it was deadlocked on the one count of racketeering conspiracy against Burga before clearing him when they resumed deliberations Tuesday.
In his opening remarks Bruce Udolf, for Burga, said the government had “simply gone too far” and “simply got it wrong”. “They’ve made a lot of righteous charges against a lot of bad people. But Manuel Burga is not one of them,” he said. Regarding the witnesses he said they were motivated to “get pretty doggone creative”.
This became a frequently used argument for the defence lawyers throughout the trial. They argued that the trial proved the guilt not of their clients but of those sports marketing executives who had previously pleaded guilty and struck plea bargain deals to testify for the government.
It was a trial that was not without drama. The star witness for the prosecution Alejandro Burzaco broke down in court after prosecutors said Burga had twice made slashing motions across his throat towards him. The jury were not in court at the time.
Burga’s lawyer said that he had a skin irritation because of the New York weather, but Judge Pamela Chen ordered Burga to be put under “extreme house arrest” and cut off his access to phones and computers.
While prosecutors argued Burga had plotted to collect $4.4 million in bribes, they also acknowledged that he had not collected that money. In contrast Marin and Napout had collected their bribes and detailed pictures were painted of how they had spent it.
Prosecution argued Burga had instead deferred collecting the bribe money, and produced an email they said was proof of this. Burga had been under investigation for money laundering in Peru which US prosecutors said had made him cautious that investigators were watching him.
After the verdict was announced it was Burga’s turn to break down in tears. His lawyer said clearing him was “the right thing to do”.
Burga says he will return to Peru, where presumably his skin condition will improve.
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