Argentine exec pleads not guilty in FIFA case

Jennie Matthew

An Argentine sports marketing executive pleaded not guilty and posted a $20 million bond on Friday after appearing in a US court to face charges in the FIFA corruption scandal which has rocked world football. Alejandro Burzaco, 51, surrendered to Italian police in June before flying to New York to face American justice over allegations that he took part in a massive kickbacks scheme going back more than 20 years. The dual Argentinian-Italian citizen is the former general manager and board chairman of Torneos y Competencias, SA, an Argentine sports marketing company. He is one of 14 FIFA officials and marketing executives accused of soliciting and receiving more than $150 million in bribes and kickbacks in a case that has scandalized world soccer. Burzaco pleaded not guilty to three charges of racketeering, money laundering and wire fraud conspiracy and posted a $20 million bond for his release, underwritten by friends and family. The defendant bowed his head before Magistrate Judge Vera Scanlon in a US federal court in Brooklyn, dressed in a dark suit, crisp white shirt and pale blue tie. Government prosecutors told Scanlon that Burzaco was not considered a flight risk given that he had handed himself in overseas. Burzaco's decision to surrender -- after reportedly disappearing from the hotel where officials from football's global governing body FIFA were arrested in May -- has triggered speculation he may negotiate a deal with prosecutors. His lawyer made no comment after leaving court. - $15 million company share - Burzaco will next appear before a US judge on September 18. US Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced the indictments in May, throwing world soccer into turmoil and leading to a resignation announcement from FIFA president Sepp Blatter. Among conditions of Burzaco's release are that he live in an FBI-approved residence within 50 miles (80 kilometers) of the court. He must surrender his passports to the FBI, submit to electronic monitoring and restrict his movements to New York and Long Island. Neither is he allowed to communicate with any of his co-defendants or any of the entities mentioned in the indictment, including FIFA. The assets put up to guarantee the bond offered a breathtaking insight into the wealth that the dual citizen has accumulated, and the trust of close friends and family. They include cash deposits of $3.3 million, to be made by October 1, three properties in the United States owned by his sister and a close friend. It also included Burzaco's 20 percent ownership of a company -- a share estimated to be worth more than $15 million. Among the six relatives and friends underwriting his bond were a sister with an annual income of $300,000 and a net worth of more than $1 million and a friend with an estimated net worth of more than $10 million. - Third defendant in US court - Burzaco's ex-wife, who was also in court, had flown from Buenos Aires to support him, his lawyer told the magistrate. US authorities accuse him of paying tens of millions of dollars in bribes to win and retain the media rights contracts for football tournaments in Latin America. The Torneos y Competencias company held the television rights for the Argentinian league between 1992-2009. In association with Aaron Davidson, president of Traffic Sports USA who was also arrested in Zurich, and another company, Full Play, it also held the rights for the Copa America tournament, last held in Chile. Burzaco was initially taken into custody near Italy's border with Switzerland after turning up at a police station with two lawyers in June. Burzaco was briefly detained in a cell and then reportedly placed under house arrest. Burzaco was reportedly having breakfast in the Zurich hotel where seven FIFA executives were arrested on May 27, the eve of a FIFA Congress. But he disappeared, apparently fearing that he had also been indicted. Burzaco is the third defendant to appear before the Brooklyn court and plead not guilty, following former FIFA vice president Jeffrey Webb and Davidson, a US businessman. Four other former officials pleaded guilty and cooperated with investigators before the indictments were announcement.