Ex-head of South American soccer governing body sentenced to nine years

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A former head of the governing body for soccer in South America was sentenced to nine years in prison by a U.S. judge on Wednesday for crimes stemming from the bribery scandal that engulfed the sport three years ago, prosecutors announced.

FILE PHOTO: Juan Angel Napout of Paraguay, one of three defendants in the FIFA scandal, leaves the United States Federal Court in Brooklyn, New York, U.S. December 21, 2017. REUTERS/Amr Alfiky

Juan Angel Napout, 60, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Pamela Chen in Brooklyn, New York, who also ordered him to pay more than $4.3 million in financial penalties, according to a statement from the office of U.S. Attorney Richard Donoghue.

“Napout’s conviction, as well as the successful prosecution of other high-level soccer officials, has struck at the core of corruption in soccer and underscores the need for continued vigilance against fraud and bribery in the sport,” Donoghue said in a statement.

“Of course we are disappointed with the nine-year sentence and plan to appeal both the verdict and sentence,” Silvia Pinera-Vazquez, Napout’s lawyer, said in an email.

Napout had served as the head of the national soccer federation in his native Paraguay and, later, of South America’s soccer governing body CONMEBOL. He was found guilty by a jury last December of racketeering conspiracy and wire fraud conspiracy.

Napout was tried alongside Jose Maria Marin, a former head of Brazil’s soccer federation, who was also convicted last week and sentenced to four years in prison.

A third defendant at the trial, former Peruvian soccer official Manuel Burga, was cleared of all charges.

The three men are the only defendants so far to go to trial out of more than 40 people and entities charged by U.S. prosecutors since 2015 in connection with the corruption scandal surrounding FIFA, soccer’s world governing body. At least 24 others have pleaded guilty.

Prosecutors have described a sprawling scheme involving payments of more than $200 million of bribes and kickbacks in exchange for marketing and broadcast rights for soccer matches.

The prosecutors said that Marin and Napout each personally took millions of dollars in bribes.

Reporting by Brendan Pierson in New York; Editing by Leslie Adler and Steve Orlofsky