NEW YORK (Reuters) - A U.S. judge on Wednesday ordered that a former Peruvian soccer official on trial for corruption in Brooklyn be put under house arrest after prosecutors said he made a threatening gesture at a prosecution witness.
After jurors left for the day, a prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Kristin Mace, told U.S. District Judge Pamela Chen that Manuel Burga, former president of Peru’s soccer federation, made a “slicing motion across his throat” while looking at Alejandro Burzaco. The witness is testifying for prosecutors in the first trial to emerge from the United States’ sweeping investigation of bribery in international soccer.
Mace said Burga made the gesture once on Tuesday and again on Wednesday morning. The second time, she said, Burzaco, the former head of Argentine sports marketing company Torneos y Competencias, broke down in tears.
Burga’s lawyer, Bruce Udolf, denied the claim.
”This is a gentle, meek, timid man,“ he said of Burga. ”I never saw any indication that he was making any gesture.
Udolf said Burga was rubbing his neck because his skin was irritated, and that Burzaco cried because a man he named in his testimony on Tuesday committed suicide hours later.
Argentine police have said that Jorge Delhon, formerly a lawyer for Argentina’s government-run Futbol Para Todos (Soccer for All) television program, jumped in front of a train.
Chen, however, said Burzaco might have had added reason to fear for his safety after Delhon’s death.
“You can call it a suicide,” she said. “The truth is none of us know that for sure.”
Earlier in the day, Burzaco testified that after he began cooperating with U.S. authorities, his brother told him that Buenos Aires police were instructed to “shut me down.”
He said that meant to do anything to stop him from cooperating, “including killing me.”
Mace said Wednesday evening that there was a video of Burga’s gesture, which was not played in court. Chen said she had watched the video, but that it did not decide the issue.
Chen did not go as far as jailing Burga, as Mace had asked, but barred him from leaving his residence without Udolf and from using a phone or computer.
Burga is on trial alongside Juan Ángel Napout, former president of the South American soccer governing body CONMEBOL and Paraguay’s soccer federation, and José Maria Marin, former president of Brazil’s soccer federation.
Over the course of two days, Burzaco has testified that his company and its partner paid each of them millions of dollars in bribes to secure marketing rights to soccer tournaments, including the Copa America, Copa Libertadores and World Cup.
The defendants’ lawyers said in their opening statements Monday that they did not take bribes.
Reporting By Brendan Pierson in New York; Editing by Lisa Shumaker