FIFA-gate News Analysis: It’ll be lonely this Christmas for Marin and Napout

By Paul Nicholson

December 22 – Jose Maria Marin, former head of Brazil’s Football Confederation (CBF) and Juan Angel Napout, former head of Paraguayan football are spending their first Christmas in jail after the jury in what has been dubbed the FIFA-gate trial found them guilty of racketeering conspiracy and accepting bribes in return for commercial rights.

Marin, 85, and Napout, 59, each face at least 10 years in prison with a maximum sentence of 20 years. As Elvis once sang, it’ll be lonely this Christmas. Though Marin and Napout could soon find themselves joined by a lot of old friends as sentencing of others indicted in the scandal that rocked FIFA begins in earnest after the New Year

The third defendant in the Brooklyn trial, former Peruvian FA boss Manuel Burga, is still awaiting a jury verdict. They will return after Christmas to decide his fate.

The five-week trial was followed by six days of jury deliberation – perhaps a surprisingly long time to reach a verdict considering the weight of evidence against the three.

At the heart of the defence was the claim that the prosecution’s case was built around witnesses who had pleaded guilty to corruption surrounding commercial rights to major tournaments. They argued that the evidence was untrustworthy as the witnesses would say anything to reduce their own sentences yet to be handed down.

Ultimately the evidence was too overwhelming for Marin and Napout. Marin was convicted on six of seven counts, and Napout, 59, on three out of five, all related to the award of marketing and broadcast rights.

They were accused of accepting more than $17 million in bribes – Napout $10.5 million, Marin $6.55 million. Burga faces one count of racketeering conspiracy.

Throughout the trial the prosecution built a picture of a much wider world of FIFA corruption, but a wider world based mainly based on hearsay and stories of what might have happened. For their case it is all about FIFA being a mafia style operation.

The prosecutors did drag a number of major European marketing agencies into the spotlight, most notably Spain’s MediaPro, as well as having pokes at the Qatar 2022 World Cup hosting win and Qatari sports broadcaster BeINSport. Certainly for the sports marketing agencies the impression is that the US clean-up of football isn’t quite over, though it will be interesting to see if they take the knife to their own US-based sports marketing businesses in this regard.

Portraying FIFA as a mafia organisation driven by financial gain was always a long shot – though clearly there was a culture of personal gain for those who held elected position. FIFA as a mafia-organisation for political gain was never a difficult picture to paint. But you don’t go to prison generally for political manipulation. The real question is whether this case has brought down that side of the FIFA operation – almost certainly not would be the answer. In many ways it has ushered in a culture of even less transparency and even murkier personal favour.

If there is any confusion about this read the op-ed in the Guardian newspaper by three sacked officials of FIFA’s ‘independent’ ethics function.

Marin’s defense lawyers argued against immediate incarceration saying he takes medication for depression and hypertension. Judge Pamela Chen was unmoved, perhaps pointing to what could be a stiff sentence to be handed down. “I don’t think there are real reasons for appeal,” said Chen. “The defendants are facing very significant potential sentences.”

Of the 42 individuals indicted, 24 have pleaded guilty with just so far having been sentenced. Fifteen remain in their own countries, including some of the biggest fish in FIFA’s too-often shark-infested waters.

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