FIFA CORRUPTION

Argentina football official commits suicide over Fifa trial claims: Reports

The Fifa corruption trial began Monday, two and a half years after the United States unveiled the largest graft scandal in the history of world football.

A former Argentine football official has reportedly committed suicide after he was accused of bribe-taking in testimony to a trial of top former Fifa figures in New York.

Jorge Delhon threw himself under a train in a Buenos Aires suburb on Tuesday, Argentine newspapers Clarin and La Nacion reported on their websites.

A sports marketing executive, Alejandro Burzaco, had testified in the trial Tuesday that Delhon and another man, Pablo Paladino, took millions of dollars in bribes in exchange for rights to broadcast football games.

Burzaco, the first witness in the trial, painted a damning picture of corruption in South American football, saying millions of dollars in bribes were paid for TV rights to major tournaments.

Burzaco, the former chairman of an Argentine sports marketing company, pleaded guilty in November 2015 to racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering conspiracies and agreed to pay $21.6 million in restitution.

In US federal court, he detailed how his Torneos y Competencias S.A. company paid bribes to South American Football Confederation (Conmebol) executives for more than a decade to secure television rights to major tournaments. Payments were sent by wire transfer to Swiss bank accounts or passed on as cash “in bags or envelopes,” Burzaco added.

Fox Pan American Sports, part of 21st Century Fox, Brazil’s TV Globo, Argentine group Full Play and Spain’s MediaPro were among those who paid – all partners of Torneos y Competencias. Fox Sports’ parent company, 21st Century Fox, did not immediately respond to a request to comment.

The Fifa corruption trial began Monday, two and a half years after the United States unveiled the largest graft scandal in the history of world football. Three South American defendants are in the dock, charged with racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering conspiracies.

They are Jose Maria Marin, ex-head of Brazil’s Football Confederation, former Fifa vice president Juan Angel Napout, who was elected president of Conmebol in 2014, and Manuel Burga, who led football in Peru until 2014.

Burzaco said he bribed all three defendants, alleging that Marin received payments of $300,000, going up to $450,000 a year. The trial is due to last five to six weeks, and prosecutors are expected to present hundreds of thousands of pages of evidence and dozens of witnesses.

If convicted by a jury, they risk up to 20 years behind bars for the most serious offenses.

‘Presidential treatment’

But much of Burzaco’s most damning testimony implicated men not on trial in New York, including ex-South American football boss Nicolas Leoz, and his deputies Julio Grondona and Ricardo Teixeira. The three of them would have received around $600,000 a year in bribes, he said. Grondona died in 2014 and while Leoz is under house arrest in Paraguay, his lawyers have so far frustrated all attempts to extradite him.

Leoz, Grondona, a former Fifa finance chief and Argentine Football Association president, and Teixeira, former president of the Brazilian Football Confederation, were given “presidential treatment,” he said. They were whisked around by private jet, with “three or four Mercedes” parked on the tarmac ready and waiting on arrival at Conmebol headquarters.

“They had presidential or diplomatic or royal treatment,” Burzaco testified. “Like a special dignitary, there were no customs, no immigration.”

He also told how they were paid for their votes on the executive committee for choosing hosts of the World Cup. When Leoz failed to vote for Qatar to host the 2022 World Cup at Fifa headquarters in December 2010, Teixeira and Grondona rounded on him, Burzaco testified.

“They shook him up. They asked: ‘What are you doing? Are you the one not voting for Qatar?’” he quoted them as saying. A month later, Grondona received $1 million from Teixeira for voting for Qatar, Burzaco said.

The defendants are just three of the 42 officials and marketing executives, not to mention three companies, indicted in an exhaustive 236-page complaint detailing 92 separate crimes and 15 corruption schemes to the tune of $200 million.

Defense lawyers admit widespread corruption at Fifa, but say there is no evidence that their clients were involved, and will seek to discredit government witnesses who are likely to include those who cut plea bargain deals in the case.

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“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

Like the long-settled German expats in India, the German airline, Lufthansa, too has incorporated some quintessential aspects of Indian culture in its service. Recognising the centuries-old cultural affinity between the two countries, Lufthansa now provides a rich experience of Indian hospitality to all flyers on board its flights to and from India. You can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalized by Lufthansa to the extent that they are More Indian Than You Think. To experience Lufthansa’s hospitality on your next trip abroad, click here.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.