Trial Summary: November 16, 2017 (Day 4)
Motion to Remand
Judge Chen has not yet decided what action to take on the government’s motion to remand Manuel Burga to custody based on the alleged “neck-slitting” motions he made at Alejandro Burzaco on November 14 and 15, 2017. She reviewed the courtroom tape and found it inconclusive; however, she is taking the Government’s word that Burga made a threatening gesture. She appears poised to grant whatever relief the Government asks for. Tomorrow, the court will hear from Burga, without the jury, and Judge Chen will render a ruling.
For their part, the Defense tried to explain the gesture as Burga merely scratching his neck. They noted he has a skin condition which he is using a cortisone cream for, and allege that he has scratched his neck multiple times throughout trial.
Government Witness: Alejandro Burzaco (cross by counsel for Napout)
Thursday’s testimony consisted entirely of the cross-examination of Alejandro Burzaco, first by Juan Angel Napout’s lawyer, then by Manuel Burga’s lawyer.
Bribes Paid to Napout and Others
Burzaco was first questioned about bribe payments made to Napout, including how they were made and who they were made by. Burzaco explained that, generally, Napout was paid by wire transfer and wasn’t sure if physical cash was ever handed to him. The wire transfers were approved by Torneos and carried out by partners of Torneos, including T&T and Datisa. Burzaco explained that payments were frequently handled by Eladio Rodriguez and that Burzaco never directly paid Napout.
Burzaco was questioned about his involvement and that of Torneos with respect to numerous shell companies. He admitted to using a number of companies for bribes, including the Hamlet Group, T&T Cayman and FPT. Burzaco denied paying bribes to Cristina Fernandez and Mauricio Macri, the former and current presidents of Argentina, respectively.
Defense counsel was particularly interested in Burzaco’s relationship with Julio Grondona, the former head of the Argentine Football Association and former vice president of FIFA. They asked questions attempting to establish links between Burzaco, Grondona and third parties, with a particular focus on Argentine politics. Burzaco explained that, while very influential in soccer, Grondona did not carry similar political weight. Nonetheless, when asked whether he used Grondona to further his own political agenda, Burzaco replied that he used Grondona to get politicians to stop “raping” Torneos. Burzaco also admitted to helping others set up meetings with the President of Argentina, although he denied that Grondona played a significant role in that process.
Burzaco’s brother is Eugenio Burzaco, the Secretary of Security in Argentina and former head of the Buenos Aires police. While this line of questioning never fully developed, it appears that the Defense was suggesting Burzaco somehow conspired with his brother, a powerful political figure in Argentina. They questioned Burzaco on payments allegedly made to his brother however, Burzaco claimed to not remember a wire transfer from his bank account totaling US$3.9 million. Burzaco did however admit that, in case of his death, his brother would receive the remaining funds in one of his Merrill Lynch accounts.
Events Leading up to Burzaco Turning Himself In
The Defense attempted to paint a picture of Burzaco “fleeing” arrest from Zurich to Italy, and that he ultimately decided to turn himself in because he had no other options. Burzaco maintained that he did not believe an arrest warrant had been issued for him, that he did not flee, and that he simply went to Italy to meet his lawyer. He claims he turned himself in because it was the best option for him.
The defense also pushed Burzaco on his divorce, which was finalized after he left Zurich for Italy in 2015 (and, as a result, a certain amount of his assets were transferred to his wife). Burzaco denied attempting to hide his money through the divorce. He explained that he separated from his wife in 2011 gave her divorce papers in February of 2015. She did not finalize them until later in the year.
The Defense attempted to undermine Burzaco’s integrity by discussing the deal he received from the Government. First, counsel questioned Burzaco on the amount of his fine (US$21 million) relative to his net worth. Burzaco testified that to pay the fine he put forward all of his available cash and all of the proceeds from his sale of shares in Torneos. He denied owning additional accounts, in the amounts of US$46 million and US$67 million, that Defense asserted were his. He admitted, however, that he set up trusts for his children, but he disputed the value the Defense ascribed to them (US$240 million) and did not provide a figure of his own. Burzaco asserted he did not have any real estate holdings as of November 2015.
The Defense also pressed Burzaco on the lesser charges he was facing, which included not being charged for bribing a public official. Burzaco did not admit to agreeing to lesser charges; rather, he stated that he simply agreed to whatever was written in the cooperation agreement and that his sentence was ultimately up to the judge. Burzaco did indicate that he understood the prosecutors would have to intercede on his behalf for him to obtain a reduced sentence. The Defense emphasized this point by continually repeating that Burzaco met with the Government 50 times (an estimate by Burzaco), suggesting that he was on their side and biased against the defendants.
Government Witness: Alejandro Burzaco (cross by counsel for Burga)
The Extent of Burzaco’s Bribery
Burzaco estimated that, over the years, he had bribed approximately 30 individuals, with payments totaling around US$160 million. This included bribes initiated through Torneos.
Additional Point of Interest
Defense counsel asked Burzaco if he ever made payments to Lionel Messi. Burzaco said he “paid him off,” but he then explained that the only money given to Messi were fees of US$2,000 to appear at friendly matches (in addition to whatever was in Messi’s contract). This evidence was not directly connected with any other aspect of the defense counsel’s cross-examination.
Cross examination will continue on Friday, November 17, 2017.