Defendant in FIFA case appears in US court


NEW YORK (AP) – An Argentinian sports marketing executive pleaded not guilty in a U.S. court Friday in the massive racketeering and bribery case that has scandalized international soccer.

Alejandro Burzaco became the third of 14 defendants charged in the FIFA investigation to appear in federal court in Brooklyn. Prosecutors allege the defendants plotted to arrange bribes of more than $150 million – tied to the award of broadcasting and hosting rights for the World Cup and other tournaments – over a 24-year period.

Wearing a rumpled business suit, Burzaco spoke only to tell the judge he understood the charges and his rights under U.S. law, and to enter his plea. His lawyer declined to speak to reporters outside court.

Burzaco – the former chief executive of a sports and marketing company, Torneos y Competencias – was to be released on a $20 million bond secured with cash, real estate and business holdings. His movements also will be tracked by electronic monitoring device.

The defendant had turned himself in to Italian authorities in June and waived extradition. U.S. prosecutors say he was involved in kickbacks and bribes worth tens of millions of dollars to obtain media rights for soccer tournaments.

An indictment cites a meeting between Burzaco, two other defendants and an unidentified co-conspirator in 2014 in Florida where they spoke about the bribery scheme. It alleges that at one point Burzaco warned in broken English, “All can get hurt because of this subject. … All of us go to prison.”

Earlier this month, a high-ranking FIFA official, Jeffrey Webb appeared in the same courthouse to enter a not guilty plea. He was released on $10 million bond.

Webb, 50, who is from the Cayman Islands, was among seven FIFA officials detained in Switzerland last spring. The rest are fighting extradition.

A third defendant, Aaron Davidson, also has pleaded not guilty. Lawyers have said the president of the marketing company Traffic Sports USA is involved in plea negotiations.

Burzaco is due back in court Sept. 18.

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