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Fifa corruption scandal

Former Fifa vice-president Juan Angel Napout sentenced to nine years in US prison

Napout was convicted in December of wire fraud and racketeering conspiracy by a federal jury after a seven-week trial

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 30 August, 2018, 5:23am
UPDATED : Thursday, 30 August, 2018, 6:25am

To his lawyers, he was a man who did hundreds of good deeds, including paying for his chauffeur’s knee surgery. But US prosecutors said former South American soccer boss Juan Angel Napout sometimes moved illicit cash by dispatching his personal driver on 15-hour trips from Buenos Aires to Asuncion, Paraguay.

Napout, 60, a Paraguayan who was president of CONMEBOL, the governing body for South America’s soccer, as well as a vice-president of Fifa, international soccer’s governing association, was sentenced to nine years in prison on Wednesday after a jury convicted him of getting US$3.4 million in bribes and soliciting almost US$25 million.

In announcing the sentence Wednesday in New York federal court, US District Judge Pamela Chen said she had a hard time reconciling the portrait of Napout painted by his lawyers, family and friends, as a man of generosity and good character with the evidence she had seen at trial.

“Napout had a public face, one that is reflected in all the letters I’ve seen,” Chen said. “But then there was this hidden character he had, this hidden life.”

Prosecutors had sought a sentence of 20 years behind bars, while Napout pleaded for a reduced sentence.

“I know America is a compassionate country,” Napout told the judge before the sentence was handed down. “I beg you for your mercy.”

“I know America is a compassionate country. I beg you for your mercy
Juan Angel Napout

Napout portrayed himself publicly as an agent of reform who tried to change CONMEBOL, which was plagued by years of corruption. Prosecutors said that wasn’t so.

“Napout continued to cheat the sport he was supposed to protect, took millions of dollars in bribes despite his extraordinary wealth, and encouraged and facilitated others’ participation in the crimes,” they said in a court filing.

His lawyers say that is just a small snapshot of his life.

“Despite being born into a wealthy family, Juan Napout remained humble and worked hard alongside the employees to further expand the family business,” the lawyers wrote in a letter to the judge.

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“Napout was a pacifist who avoided conflict and sought to bring people together.”

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The five-hour sentencing hearing included an appeal from Napout’s wife, Karin Forster, who said, “with all his flaws and strengths he is a decent man.” Crying, she concluded, “Please, your honour, give mercy and impose a sentence that allows him to return,” to Paraguay.

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Napout was convicted in December of wire fraud and racketeering conspiracy by a federal jury after a seven-week trial. He was cleared of money-laundering charges.

The trial exposed the “rampant corruption in international soccer,” Chen said. “A message has to be sent to others.”

You cannot steal millions in bribes from these organisations and go unpunished
US District Judge Pamela Chen

Chen said “you cannot steal millions in bribes from these organisations and go unpunished.”

Prosecutors at the trial called almost 30 witnesses, including former sports-marketing executives who gave jurors an inside look into Fifa’s seamier side.

They said that from 2010 until 2016 Napout accepted at least US$10.5 million in payoffs.

Alejandro Burzaco, the government’s star witness and 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.

A former Citigroup Inc. banker, Burzaco testified that Napout was among at least six soccer officials who accepted payoffs.

“Napout’s conviction stands in stark contrast to the manner in which he led his life and adhered to the rule of law,” his lawyers said.