NEW YORK: Eight defendants who have pleaded not guilty in the sweeping FIFA corruption scandal should go on trial in New York in September or October 2017, a US federal judge recommended Wednesday (Thursday in Manila).
Judge Raymond Dearie told a court hearing it was no longer realistic to expect the defendants, who between them have negotiated bonds worth millions to live under house arrest, to face trial in spring 2017.
“I want to set a realistic schedule,” Dearie told a 20-minute hearing at the US federal court in Brooklyn. “September or October 2017 is the date, so you can plan accordingly,” he told the lawyers.
Even a September 2017 trial date comes nearly two and a half years after US Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced the first indictments in the sweeping investigation that has rocked world soccer.
Assistant US attorney Evan Norris told court it was “too early to say if additional defendants” would be charged in the ongoing FIFA investigation, which he described as “quite active and quite broad.”
In all, 40 officials and marketing executives are accused of soliciting and receiving tens of millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks in a case that has sparked an unprecedented crisis at FIFA.
More than a third have pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with US prosecutors in exchange for a possible reduction in sentence.
Of eight defendants under US house arrest, having pleaded not guilty, five attended Wednesday’s hearing. The other three were represented by their lawyers.
Norris said he had no concrete information on if or when other suspects already charged may be extradited, but said it was possible that “one or two” may arrive in New York before the trial starts.
Prosecutors still need to process hundreds of thousands of documents seized by authorities in Paraguay from the headquarters of CONMEBOL, which included contracts, bank records and emails, he said.
The defendants in court Wednesday were Eduardo Li, former president of the Costa Rican Football Federation, former Brazilian Football Confederation president Jose Maria Marin, and Guatemala ex Football Federation secretary general, Hector Trujillo.
Costas Takkas, the former CaymanIslands Football Federation general secretary, and Julio Rocha, the former president of the Nicaraguan Football Federation, also attended the hearing.
US sports marketing executive Aaron Davidson, Juan Angel Napout, a former FIFA vice president, and Rafael Esquivel, Venezuela’s former Football Federation president were excused.
US prosecutors are continuing to submit evidence to defense teams, including more than three million records which were due to have been submitted on Tuesday, according to court papers.
Prosecutors earlier this year proposed an “aggressive but achievable” schedule that would have started jury selection February 27, 2017.
Dearie was insistent Wednesday that a precise schedule be drawn up, and said he would issue a written order that included a trial date.
“This could go on and on and on and on,” he said. “There’s got to be an end point.”