Tuesday 20 August 2019

Sepp Blatter's Fifa vice-president took $1m bribe to vote for Qatar to win 2022 World Cup, court hears

Julio Grondona (left) was Sepp Blatter's right-hand man. CREDIT: REUTERS
Julio Grondona (left) was Sepp Blatter's right-hand man. CREDIT: REUTERS

Ben Rumsby

Sepp Blatter’s most senior vice-president at Fifa took at least $1 million in bribes to vote for Qatar to host the 2022 World Cup, a court has heard.

Julio Grondona, who was effectively Blatter’s number two until his death in 2014, allegedly told an Argentinian sports marketing executive he had been “owed” the money in exchange for helping the tiny Gulf state secure the tournament.

Alejandro Burzaco, the former chief executive of Torneos y Competencias SA, told the first major trial in the Fifa scandal he did not know the source of a bribe that has long been suspected but said Grondona angrily confronted Qatari officials following reports he had been bought off, demanding $80m or a statement from them denying paying him.

Organisers of the Qatar World Cup have repeatedly denied paying bribes, distancing themselves from Mohamed bin Hammam, the country’s disgraced Fifa former executive committee member previously accused of orchestrating such a scheme.

Burzaco, who pleaded guilty this summer to bribing senior South American football officials in exchange for broadcast rights, told a court in Brooklyn, New York, that while he was arranging a $1m bung to Grondona and another to fellow Fifa executive Ricardo Teixeira over the rights to the Copa America, the former confessed to taking one for his World Cup vote.

Burzaco said Grondona told him a month after the December 2010 ballot to pay him Teixeria’s $1m Copa America bribe, which the Brazilian “owed him” as “Grondona voted for Qatar to host the 2022 World Cup”.

The witness also told the court he had accompanied the duo and another ExCo member, Conmebol president Nicolás Leoz, to Zurich for the vote and knew they planned to back Qatar.

Burzaco testified that Grondona told him Leoz then voted for Japan and then South Korea but switched his allegiance to Qatar when the long-standing head of the Argentine Football Association said to him: “What the hell are you doing? Are you the one not voting for Qatar?”

Describing an altercation between Grondona and Qatari officials at a Fifa event 11 months later amid reports he had sold his vote, Burzaco said: “Basically, Grondona told them, ‘You will pay me $80m or write a letter saying you never paid me’.”

The trial of three former Fifa officials, José Maria Marin, Juan Ángel Napout and Manuel Burga continues.

The trio all deny taking bribes in exchange for football broadcast rights in what prosecutors have branded the “World Cup of fraud”.

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