A powerful FIFA soccer official from Argentina demanded bribes to vote for Qatar to host the World Cup in 2022, a key witness at a U.S. trial testified. Former Argentine marketing executive Alejandro Burzaco told the jury on Tuesday that the official, longtime FIFA finance committee chairman Julio Grondona, claimed in several conversations that he was owed millions of dollars for his 2010 vote as a member of FIFA’s executive committee that helped Qatar land soccer’s most prestigious tournament.
The account in federal court in Brooklyn appeared to back up persistent suspicions that the Qatar vote was rigged and that the influence of Grondona, the senior vice president at FIFA and head of the Argentinian football association until his death in 2014, was for sale.
Burzaco, whose testimony was to continue Wednesday, also seemed to confirm long-held allegations that FIFA bidding rules were broken by a vote-trading pact between Qatar’s bid for 2022 and the joint Spain-Portugal bid for 2018 hosting rights that Russia eventually won.
The three South American voters on FIFA’s executive committee, including Grondona, were drawn into the pact after being told by Spanish officials that “they had made an internal agreement with Qatar authorities to syndicate votes,” Burzaco told the court.
After Qatar’s vote victory, beating the United States in a final round ballot, unproven allegations were made that Qatar paid the Grondona-led Argentine soccer federation tens of millions of dollars.
Burzaco described an angry behind-the-scenes confrontation between Grondona and Qatari soccer officials at a FIFA meeting in 2011 in Rio de Janeiro. In July 2011, Rio hosted the qualifying program draw for the 2014 World Cup hosted by Brazil.
Grondona was upset over reports accusing him of corruption, Burzaco said in court, and confronted Qatari officials at the five-star Copacabana Palace Hotel.
Grondona started “insulting them and complaining,” Burzaco testified. “And basically, Grondona told them, you either pay me $80 million, or you issue me a letter in print or by top authorities saying that you never pay me a bribe.”
Later, Grondona was very angry and anxious, Burzaco testified and was complaining he had entered “all these mess and scandal for only” $1.5 million while two others had fooled him and got $75 million. Those two men were FIFA executive committee member Ricardo Teixeira of Brazil and Sandro Rosell, a former Nike executive and then-president of Spanish club Barcelona, the court was told.
Burzaco said in court he could not verify the truth of allegations about Qatar, which were detailed to explain why Grondona had told him in early 2011 about being owed $1 million by Teixeira. The Brazilian official has been indicted by U.S authorities but cannot be extradited from his home country.
Burzaco is testifying under a plea agreement against three former South American soccer officials accused of taking bribes in a sprawling corruption investigation of FIFA, the sport’s governing body. Jose Maria Marin, Manuel Burga and Juan Angel Napout have pleaded not guilty to charges they took part in a 24-year scheme involving at least $150 million in bribes that secured broadcasting and hosting rights for soccer tournaments around the globe.
More than 40 other officials and business executives were charged. Many, including Burzaco, have pleaded guilty in hopes of receiving reduced sentences.