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International Football

FIFA TRIAL: SOUTH AMERICAN OFFICIALS CONVICTED

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Two former South American football officials have become the first to be convicted in the US trial stemming from the FIFA bribery scandal that broke out last year. According to Associated Press reports, trial of the third official continues next week.

Jose Maria Marin and Juan Angel Napout, were found guilty of the top count they faced, racketeering conspiracy.

Marin, the former president of Brazil’s soccer federation, and Napout, formerly president of Paraguay’s soccer federation and of the South American soccer governing body CONMEBOL, also were convicted of wire fraud conspiracy.

But Napout was acquitted of money laundering conspiracy. And Marin was convicted on money laundering conspiracy charges, but acquitted of one charge of money laundering conspiracy.

Jurors remained undecided about the single racketeering charge against Manuel Burga, the former president of Peru’s soccer federation.

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U.S. District Judge Pamela Chen immediately jailed Marin, 85, and Napout, 59, after prosecutors argued that they had the connections and the wealth to flee the U.S. to avoid prison terms she said could be more than 10 years on the racketeering charge alone.

Afterward, their lawyers said they were disappointed by the verdict. “We’re going to continue fighting to absolve Mr. Napout,” said defense attorney Silvia Pinera.

Burga, 60, remained free on bail and was to return to court on Tuesday for further jury deliberations. His lawyer, Bruce Udolf, said his client was hopeful that the jury would clear him. World soccer’s governing body said it is will seek compensation and a share of the cash.

FIFA said in a statement to The Associated Press that “as the jury has found a number of defendants guilty of the charged crimes, FIFA will now take all necessary steps to seek restitution and recover any losses caused by their misconduct.”

Marin, Burga and Napout had been arrested in 2015. Prosecutors accused them of agreeing to take millions of dollars in bribes from businessmen seeking to lock up lucrative media rights or influence hosting rights for the World Cup and other major tournaments controlled by FIFA.

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The three were among more than 40 people and entities in the world of global soccer who faced criminal charges in the U.S. in connection with what prosecutors said were schemes involving hundreds of millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks. Many of the other defendants pleaded guilty.

Their trial ended up being colored by odd twists: an unproven accusation that Burga threatened a witness; a juror booted for sleeping through testimony; word from Buenos Aires that an Argentine lawyer had killed himself there hours after being named at the trial as a bribe-taker; and the surprise testimony of a former member of the Jonas Brothers, an American pop rock band.

The government’s star witness, a former marketing executive from Argentina, Alejandro Burzaco, testified that he and his company arranged to pay $160 million in bribes over the course of several years. Some of the money was demanded by a FIFA official in exchange for helping rig a vote that gave Qatar hosting rights for the World Cup in 2022, he said.

“You’ve seen a lot of paper, some of it quite complex,” Nitze said in closing arguments. “There are cases that present mysteries to be solved — whodunits. This is not one of them.”

Prosecutors said that driven by greed, Burga took $4.4 million in bribes, Marin took $6.6 million and Napout collected $10.5 million.

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The defense argued that the men were innocent bystanders framed by Burzaco and other untrustworthy cooperators angling for leniency in their own cases. Napout’s lawyer told jurors the prosecution had failed to produce records of wire transfers or large bank deposits that could prove he was receiving piles of bribe money.

“They say cash is king, but where did it go?” said the attorney, John Pappalardo. “There was not one penny they could trace to Juan.”

Marin’s lawyer called his client a clueless figurehead, saying the person making the real decisions was Marco Polo del Nero, the head of Brazil’s soccer federation. Del Nero is charged in the U.S. case but hasn’t been extradited from Brazil. FIFA suspended him from the sport Friday.

Burga’s lawyers zeroed in on evidence that ledgers by sports-marketing officials showed he hadn’t received the cash. Prosecutors said Burga, aware he was under investigation in Peru, told bribe-payers to hold onto his money and pay him later.

One witness described that listed bribes for Napout, including an entry for Paul McCartney concert tickets worth more than $10,000. After the defense questioned whether the concert actually took place, the government called Kevin Jonas to testify that he attended the show as a spectator.

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Another cooperator, Brazilian businessman Jose Hawilla, agreed to wear a wire for the FBI to make recordings played at the trial.

One included a conversation he had with Marin in 2014 in which prosecutors say the defendant negotiated a bribe by saying, “It’s about time to have it coming my way. True or not?”

Hawilla responded: “Of course. That money had to be given to you.”

Burga got some unwanted attention early in the trial when prosecutors claimed he unnerved Burzaco by directing a threatening gesture at him — running his fingers across his throat in a slicing motion. The lawyer claimed his client was merely scratching his throat, but the judge took the incident seriously enough to tighten Burga’s house arrest conditions

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Kunle Solaja is the author of landmark books on sports and journalism as well as being a multiple award-winning journalist and editor of long standing. He is easily Nigeria’s foremost soccer diarist and Africa's most capped FIFA World Cup journalist, having attended all FIFA World Cup finals from Italia ’90 to Qatar 2022. He was honoured at the Qatar 2022 World Cup by FIFA and AIPS.

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International Football

New twist in Cameroon football coach crisis

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BY KUNLE SOLAJA

The coaching crisis in Cameroon’s Indomitable Lions has taken a new dimension as the football federation, FECAFOOT, led by former international, Samuel Eto’o goes in direct confrontation with the coaching crew appointed by the sports ministry which also picks the bills.

  According to a Cameroon official who will not like to be named as he was not authorised to speak on the matter, the claims and counter claims of both the sports ministry and the FECAFOOT led by Eto’o had been heard and decided by the conciliation and arbitration chamber of the Cameroonian national Olympic committee, which is a court in charge of sports cases in Cameroon.

  “What is in contention is not the position of the Belgian coach, Marcc Brys, but that of the Cameroonian assistants attached to him.”

  The source explained to Sports Village Square that although the employment of Brys by the sports ministry was initially contested by Eto’o, the former player has come to accept the situation.

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  “In Cameroon, there is always a techenical crew of nine to 11. The foreign coach is allowed to bring in two foreign assistants, while the others are always Cameroonians.

  In this case, the sports ministry approved the list of two foreign assistants by Brys while also announcing another set of local assistants that included former international, François Omam-Biyik, one of the stars of Italia ‘90  and the scorer of the goal that gave Cameroon a 1-0 win over a Diego Maradona-inspired  Argentina.

  “That is where the problem is. FECAFOOT also submitted a list of technical crew that included Brys and his two foreign assistants but dropped the names of the local assistants with new ones.”

  In essence, there are two lists with both having three names as same, but differ on the rest.

 According to the source, the list submitted by the sports ministry was upheld by the tribunal which threw aside that of FECAFOOT.

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  In another twist, FIFA has already removed the name of Marc Brys from the profile of Cameroon on its website. Only the name of national women’s coach, Jean-Baptiste Bisseck is listed.

The removal of Brys’ name is happening a second time as it was first removed at the end of last month before being reinstated.

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Cameroon’s appointment of Brys as manager suspended by sports tribunal

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Marc Brys

Cameroon’s appointment of Belgian Marc Brys as head coach was suspended by the country’s top sports tribunal on Tuesday following the petition of an amateur football club.

The country’s sports ministry stirred controversy last month when it named 61-year-old Brys as manager of the Indomitable Lions without consulting the football federation (FECAFOOT).

The move sparked a dispute between the sports ministry and FECAFOOT, which said the government had made a unilateral decision.

In response, it asked its president Samuel Eto’o to propose a national coach and other management staff for the national side within 72 hours, deepening its standoff with the sports ministry.

Eto’o kept Brys as head coach but named different assistants, technical, medical and administrative staff.

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An amateur club, meanwhile, took the matter to the Arbitration and Conciliation Chamber of the Cameroon National Olympic and Sports Committee.

In a provisional ruling on Tuesday, the court suspended the FECAFOOT appointments while it fully examined the matter. Concerned parties have 24 hours to appeal.

FECAFOOT in response said it “reserves the right to refer these decisions to FIFA, as they hinder the preparation process for the forthcoming sport events.

“The Emergency Committee of FECAFOOT will meet immediately to take appropriate measures,” it said in a statement.

Soccer’s world governing body FIFA has strict rules against government interference in national federations and has frequently banned countries when governments get involved in federation affairs.

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The president of the Cameroon Association of Amateur Football Clubs, Balla Ongolo Henri, had previously said Eto’o’s appointments would damage Cameroon’s image and disrupt preparations for the 2026 World Cup qualifiers next June.

Brys, 61, penned a contract on May 8 as head coach of the Indomitable Lions following the dismissal of Rigobert Song in February. FECAFOOT did not attend the signing ceremony.

The sports ministry says it has acted in accordance with national and international regulations.

Reuters

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Amokachi, Adebayor and Amanda Dlamini confirmed for CAF African Schools Championship Finals

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African football legends, Emmanuel Adebayor, Daniel Amokachi and Amanda Dlamini are some of the top names that have been confirmed for the Continental Finals of the CAF African Schools Football Championship 2024 scheduled in Zanzibar between 21 – 24 May 2024.

The CAF African Schools Football Championship is the school’s competition that includes over 44 African countries with over 800 000 participants of Boys and Girls under the age of 15.

This is the second edition of the competition that is not only focused on Football but also on a number of programmes including Young Referee’s Programme, Young Reporter Programme and Safeguarding. 

Adebayor, CAF Player of the Year in 2008, represented Togo at the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany for their only appearance at the tournament. Ex-striker for Arsenal, Manchester City, Real Madrid, and others, the Togolese star has had a successful career, earning over 85 caps with Les Eperviers.

Nigerian football star Amokachi played 42 international matches for the Super Eagles. He participated in the 1994 and 1998 FIFA World Cups and was part of the team that won the TotalEnergies CAF Africa Cup of Nations in 1994 and the Olympic Games in 1996.

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Former Banyana Banyana (South Africa) captain Dlamini played in two TotalEnergies CAF Women’s Africa Cup of Nations competitions where they finished third and second in 2010 and 2012, respectively. She is one of the few footballers, both in the men’s and women’s national teams to reach 100 caps.

Dlamini recently made history when she became the first female to be part of the world commentary feed at the TotalEnergies CAF Africa Cup of Nations Cote d’Ivoire 2023.

Also on the list are local stars Abdi Kassim Sadalla, former Tanzanian National Team Captain, and Hilda Masanche, Head coach of the Tanzania U17 Women’s National Team.

The Legends will feature in various activities to promote and support football development among African youth.

The finals will bring together talented young players from across the continent, providing them a platform to showcase their skills and passion for the game.

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-CAF

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