Three former FIFA officials went on trial in New York City this week. File Photo by Nick Soland/EPA
Nov. 14 (UPI) -- Three former South American soccer officials are on trial in New York for corruption stemming from the governing body of the sport, FIFA.
The former officials -- Conmebol Juan Angel Napout, Jose Maria Marin and Manuel Burga -- are accused of taking millions of dollars in bribes in exchange for lucrative broadcasting and hosting rights for major soccer tournaments.
Napout was the head of the South American soccer federation, Marin was Brazil's, and Burga was federation chief in Peru.
"These defendants cheated the sport in order to benefit themselves." U.S. attorney Keith Edelman said in court, arguing they "did it year after year, tournament after tournament, bribe after bribe."
Edelman singled out an event in 2014 when FIFA officials announced the Copa América tournament would be held in the United States for the first time.
"By all appearances, it's a proud moment in the history of the game," Edleman told jurors. "There are drinks, press conferences but underneath the surface are lies, greed, corruption. Some of these officials had other reasons to celebrate, they had agreed to receive millions of dollars in bribes regarding the tournament."
The three former officials have pleaded not guilty to counts of racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering.
Defense attorneys argue the prosecutors' case was built on testimony of witnesses who are also trying to avoid prison time stemming from the FIFA probe.
Charles Stillman, an attorney for Marin, said his client "is an innocent man" and although "he was on the field" he was "not playing the game."
The trial marks the first in a federal corruption investigation into FIFA that began in May 2015. Since then, over 40 officials have been charged by U.S. authorities and 23 have pleaded guilty.
The probe is set to unearth bribery and global racketeering plots that ran for more than two decades.
FIFA's World Cup is the most-watched sporting event in the world.