Secret payments to soccer officials cloaked by car names
By RONALD BLUM
NEW YORK (AP) Payments to the head of Peruvian soccer were masked under the name "Fiat." Money for Paraguay's boss was listed as "Honda."
Excel spreadsheets detailed the cloak-and-dagger recording system of money given to "Benz," "VW," "Toyota," "Kia," and "Peugeot," among others, including a pair of payments labeled "Q2022" that appeared to be related to the FIFA executive committee's 2010 vote giving Qatar rights to host the 2022 World Cup.
"We basically decided to make up fantasy names for each of the people involved," sports marketing executive Santiago Pena testified Monday as the trial of three high-ranking soccer executives entered its second week in federal court in Brooklyn.
Pena worked for Full Play Group, a company based in Argentina that won marketing rights to South American World Cup qualifiers and the Copa America and Copa Libertatores tournaments.
He testified that as part of an agreement to pay the governing body for North and Central America and the Caribbean $35 million to participate in the 2016 Centennial Copa America, Full Play agreed to pay $10 million to then-CONCACAF president Jeffrey Webb - who later pleaded guilty to racketeering charges and agreed to forfeit $6.7 million.
Hugo and Mariano Jinkis, a father and son who are Full Play's controlling principals, were indicted along with many top soccer executives in 2015 by U.S. prosecutors. The father and son have not been extradited thus far.
Pena began working for Full Play in 2009 and testified that he maintained the ledger at the direction of his bosses. Pena said he took the ledger from his office on a thumb drive along with a stack of documents shortly after the first indictments were unsealed in May 2015.
He left the company that November and kept the evidence at his home before turning it over the American prosecutors as part of an agreement last February in which the government agreed not to charge Pena if he testified.
Juan Angel Napout, the ex-president of Paraguay's soccer federation, Jose Maria Marin, the former president of Brazil's soccer federation, and Manuel Burga, the ex-head of Peru's soccer federation, are on trial for racketeering conspiracy, wire fraud conspiracy and money laundering conspiracy.
Rafael Esquivel, the former president of Venezuelan soccer, was nicknamed "Benz" and his ledger listed a $750,000 payment owed for "Q2022." He pleaded guilty in November 2016 to racketeering conspiracy, wire fraud conspiracy and money laundering conspiracy.
Luis Chiriboga, the former president of Ecuadorean soccer, was nicknamed "Toyota" and his ledger listed a $500,000 payment owed for "Q2022." He was convicted in his own country in November 2016 of money laundering.
Neither Esquivel nor Chiriboga was on the FIFA executive committee that made Qatar the 2022 World Cup host. M. Kristin Mace, the assistant U.S. attorney questioning Pena, did not ask whether the payments were to be redirected to others.
Other nicknames included Honda" for Napout, "Fiat" for Burga, "VW" for Carlos Chavez of Bolivia, "Kia" for Sergio Jadue of Chile and "Peugeot" for Jose Meiszner, the former general secretary of the South American governing body CONMEBOL. Luis Bedoya of Colombia was referred to as "Flemic," after a company he owned.
Pena said that as part of the contracts for the Copa America covering 2015, 2019 and 2023, plus the 2016 Centennial Copa America, six- and seven-figure payments were made to soccer federation presidents and the CONMEBOL general secretary, listing amount for various events, plus for signing contracts. He said the money was not recorded on Full Play's regular accounts.
"They were secret payments," he said.
He said money never was sent directly to Napout and that instead he was directed by Mariano Jinkis to wire transfer funds to third-party money changers known as cambistas, who charged a fee of about 3 percent. The cambistas delivered U.S. dollars in cash to Full Play, which was kept in a safe and Pena gave it to Mariano Jinkis in envelopes to deliver to Napout. Under cross-examination, Pena said he had no knowledge of whether Napout received any of the money.
Pena testified that more than $10,000 was deducted from the amount owed to Napout in 2010 as credit for Paul McCartney concert tickets that were provided to him.
Among the payments were some for the Copa Libertadores, even though Full Play did not hold rights. Pena said his bosses described them as loyalty payments.
Pena also testified about corporate sponsorship deals for the 2015 Copa: $9 million each for MasterCard and Banco Santander; $8 million for Kia Motors; $3.2 million for Coca-Cola and DHL; $3 million for Kellogg; and $1.5 million for LATAM Airlines.
He said Full Play had met with Diego Soraires of Nike and was attempting to sell equipment rights for Chile's national team as part of an agreement that would include payments for soccer officials, only to have the deal come apart when the 2015 indictments were announced.
He said that payments were made from Full Play directly to Venezuela's players and coaches at the request of the nation's federation to get around currency restrictions in that nation.
Pena also detailed $2 million in payments Full Play made to Soccer United Marketing, a marketing company of the U.S. Soccer Federation and Major League Soccer, for a pair of exhibition games involving Mexico in March 2015, against Ecuador and Paraguay. He said Full Play sold U.S. rights to World Cup qualifiers to BeIN Sports through a London-based company.
Before testimony, U.S. District Judge Pamela K. Chen said she denied the government's request to remand Burga into custody but tightened restrictions on his cellphone use. Prosecutors said he made a slashing motion with a finger across his throat in a threatening gesture during testimony last week by Alejandro Burzaco, another marketing executive. Burga's lawyer said he was scratching because of a skin condition.
Updated November 21, 2017