July 31, 2015 / 2:42 PM / 4 years ago

Argentine exec in FIFA case pleads not guilty to U.S. charges

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The former chairman of an Argentina-based sports marketing business, one of 14 people indicted in a corruption case that has roiled the soccer world’s governing body FIFA, pleaded not guilty in a U.S. court on Friday.

The logo of soccer's international governing body FIFA is seen on its headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland, May 27, 2015. REUTERS/Ruben Sprich

Alejandro Burzaco, an Argentine businessman who was the former general manager and chairman of Torneos y Competencias SA, appeared in federal court in Brooklyn, New York, after being extradited to the United States from Italy.

According to an indictment unsealed on May 27, Burzaco faces U.S. charges including conspiracy to commit racketeering and conspiracy to commit wire fraud. He turned himself in to police in northern Italy on June 9 and is the third defendant to be arraigned on the indictment.

Burzaco, 51, was one of nine soccer officials and five marketing executives accused by the U.S. Justice Department of exploiting the sport for their own gain through bribes of more than $150 million over 24 years.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Vera Scanlon set Burzaco’s bond at $20 million and authorized his release subject to travel restrictions and electronic monitoring. A private security service approved by U.S. authorities is to provide additional around-the-clock monitoring.

Lawyers for Burzaco in the United States declined to comment while his Argentine attorney did not reply to emailed requests for comment.

Prosecutors said that Burzaco conspired with other marketing executives to funnel $110 million in bribes to soccer officials to obtain the exclusive rights for the 2015, 2019, and 2023 editions of the Copa America and a tournament celebrating the contest’s 100th anniversary called the Copa America Centenario.

The bribes were allegedly doled out to soccer officials from the regional soccer federations CONMEBOL and CONCACAF, which group countries in the Western Hemisphere.

Prosecutors said a company formed by Burzaco and three co-conspirators agreed to make the payments over the life of the contract. At least $40 million has been paid, the indictment in May said.

Referring to the alleged bribery scheme, prosecutors said that Burzaco told his co-conspirators in May 2014: “All can get hurt because of this subject. All of us go to prison.”

Jeffrey Webb, a former FIFA vice president and president of the CONCACAF regional soccer federation, was extradited from Switzerland this month and pleaded not guilty.

Webb is under house arrest after securing a $10 million bond with properties and luxury goods like 11 designer watches, his wife’s diamond wedding ring, and expensive cars including a 2015 Ferrari.

Aaron Davidson, who was the head of Brazilian sports marketing company Traffic Group’s U.S. unit in Miami, had been arrested in Miami when the indictment was announced. Davidson pleaded not guilty, and U.S. officials recently disclosed he was in plea negotiations.

Four other individuals, including Chuck Blazer, a former FIFA executive committee member, secretly pleaded guilty before the case was announced as prosecutors sought to obtain cooperating witnesses.

Additional reporting by David Ingram in New York and Richard Lough in Buenos Aires; Editing by Matthew Lewis and Lisa Shumaker

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