NEW YORK — A Brazilian businessman testified on Monday that he participated in a bribery scheme to buy the influence of FIFA soccer officials to win commercial rights to major tournaments, a decision he later regretted.
“I made a mistake,” Jose “Jota” Hawilla said at the U.S. conspiracy trial of three former South American soccer officials. “I committed an error, and I regret it very much.”
Hawilla, founder of the Traffic Group marketing firm, became the latest cooperator to take the witness stand after pleading guilty in the sprawling investigation of FIFA, the sport’s governing body.
Testifying in Portuguese through an interpreter, the 74-year-old witness described how his marketing business and two other firms joined forces to pay a $10 million bribe to Jeffrey Webb, then a FIFA vice president and president of CONCACAF, the governing body for soccer in North America, Central America and the Caribbean, to help secure the rights for the Copa America in 2016. Webb has pleaded guilty to racketeering charges and is awaiting sentencing.
The New York jury also heard for the first time recordings made by Hawilla after he was arrested in 2013 and agreed to cooperate with the FBI by wearing a wire. One tape captured a meeting with Hugo and Mariano Jinkis, a father and son who ran the Argentina-based firm Full Play, where they discussed bribing presidents of various national soccer federations.
“I want to co-exist with and make all the presidents rich,” Mariano Jinkis said, according to a transcript of the tape.
When Hawilla told the father and the son that he wanted to withdraw from the scheme and make his company “clean” again so he could sell it, the son said he didn’t want to partner with anyone else who didn’t understand that bribes, or “payoffs,” as he called them, were business as usual.
“There will always be payoffs,” he said. “There will be payoffs forever.”
Hugo and Mariano Jinkis are among the more than 40 people and entities charged in the FIFA probe. Last year, an Argentine judge denied a U.S. extradition request for the pair, citing the fact that they were already being prosecuted there.
On trial in federal court in Brooklyn are Angel Napout, former president of Paraguay’s soccer federation; Manuel Burga, the former head of Peru’s soccer federation; and Jose Maria Marin, the former president of Brazil’s soccer federation. All have pleaded not guilty to racketeering conspiracy, wire fraud conspiracy and money laundering conspiracy.
As part of his guilty plea, Hawilla agreed to forfeit $151 million. He was to return to the witness stand on Tuesday.