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The New York Post
Prosecutors Monday painted three former international soccer bigwigs as rapacious predators who cared more about lining their own pockets with illegal bribes than promoting a sport they claimed to love.
"Around the world, soccer is more than just a sport, it's a way of life," Assistant US Attorney Keith Edelman told jurors as the corruption trial kicked off for ex-FIFA honchos José Maria Marin, Juan Angel Napout and Manuel Burga. "But lurking underneath the surface of the organization was nothing more than lies, greed and corruption."
Marin (inset), Napout and Burga variously stand accused of accepting hundreds of millions of dollars in kickbacks from sports-media and marketing firms.
"These defendants cheated the sport in order to line their own pockets," Edelman told the panel of 12 jurors in Brooklyn federal court, saying the money that the well-heeled former officials are accused of taking was meant to buy equipment and promote youth and women's soccer leagues.
Yet defense attorneys for each man claimed that their clients had not taken part in a long-standing scheme that they conceded was part of the seedy underbelly of international soccer.
Lawyer Charles Stillman cast his powerful client Marin, 85, as a clueless child "picking daisies" in a youth soccer league while the scheme went on around him.
"He's like one of the youngsters off to the side, looking around, picking up daisies, while the others are running around, full steam ahead," Stillman said of Marin, who once played soccer professionally in Brazil. "Do not convict him because others have behaved wrongly."
"You're not here to determine that foreign soccer is corrupt," Napout's attorney, Silvia Pinera-Vazquez, said in her openings. "We don't dispute that."
Lawyer Bruce Udolf, who represents Burga, used his argument to portray the government cooperators slotted to take the stand against his client as "the most corrupt people on earth."
"The people the government laid down with to make their case are some of the most despicable, corrupt individuals on the planet," Udolf roared.
Marin, Napout and Burga are the only three of 42 officials to head to trial so far after they were swept up nearly three years ago in what's become known as the biggest political corruption scandal in the history of world soccer. Twenty-four of the others have already pleaded guilty.
Marin is the former head of Brazil's federation, and once sat on FIFA's Olympics organizing committee. Napout, 59, presided over the Paraguayan federation and was FIFA's president of South America's governing body. Burga, 60, is a Peruvian soccer official who once sat on FIFA's development committee.
If convicted, the men could face up to 20 years behind bars each.
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