A former South American soccer official was acquitted in the FIFA bribery scandal on Tuesday and walked out of the courtroom saying he’s finished with the world’s most popular sport.
The verdict clearing Manuel Burga, former president of Peru’s soccer federation, of a single racketeering conspiracy charge came days after prosecutors won guilty verdicts on multiple charges against two other former soccer officials.
“God bless America. That’s all I can say,” the 60-year-old Burga said with eyes still wet from tears minutes after the verdict was delivered in Brooklyn federal court.
Burga was the first person to be acquitted among more than 40 people and entities in the world of global soccer charged in the United States with a scheme to extract hundreds of millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks. Of those, 24 pleaded guilty.
The case against Burga was always thin. He faced a single count while two co-defendants—Juan Napout, of Paraguay, and Jose Maria Marin, of Brazil—were convicted of heftier charges Dec. 22 in a prosecution that exposed a culture of greed and corruption in soccer’s executive suites.
Burga called the result a miracle and noted he prayed the rosary twice daily before the acquittal.
Burga said he would go home to Peru and resume a career as a lawyer after 15 years as a soccer executive.
“My history in soccer is finished,” he said. “I’ll go back to the law.”
The judge had jailed Marin, 85, and Napout, 59, after their convictions Dec. 22. The two also were acquitted on some lesser charges.