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Former Argentine official throws himself under train hours after being accused in FIFA soccer scandal

The FIFA logo is pictured outside the FIFA headquarters in Zurich in 2015. (Walter Bieri/Keystone/AP)

Just hours after a former Argentine soccer official was accused in a Brooklyn court Tuesday of taking bribes, he threw himself under a train in a Buenos Aires suburb in an act of suicide, Argentine police told local news outlets.

The accusations against the former official, Jorge Delhon, came during testimony in the high-profile corruption trial involving three former  FIFA executives playing out in a Brooklyn federal courthouse.

Sports marketing executive Alejandro Burzaco testified that he paid millions of dollars in bribes to Delhon and another Argentine official, Pablo Paladino, between 2011 and 2014 in exchange for rights to broadcast soccer games, according to a transcript of the hearing.

Paladino was the coordinator of a now-defunct TV broadcast program run by the Argentine government called Futbol para Todos, or Soccer for All.

Delhon was a lawyer for the program and worked under the administration of former Argentina president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who served from 2007 to 2015.

Shortly after Tuesday’s court testimony, Delhon, a 52-year-old father of four, killed himself on train tracks in the Buenos Aires suburb where he lived, Lanús.

The driver of the train said he “saw a man in a dark suit running toward the tracks,” Lanús police said in a statement to local news outlets and Reuters. The driver honked and activated the brakes, but the train ran over the man, later identified as Delhon.

Buenos Aires police said they found a suicide note to Delhon’s family near the site of his death.

“I love you all,” Delhon wrote, Argentine news outlets La Nacion and Infobae reported. “I can’t believe.”

Javier Saldias, Delhon’s friend and fellow lawyer for Soccer for All, told Reuters Delhon was “a model father” and “loved his family.”

The trial centers on three Argentine soccer officials: Jose Maria Marin, the former head of Brazil’s Football Confederation; Juan Ángel Napout, former FIFA vice president; and Manuel Burga, former head of the Peruvian soccer federation. They are accused of accepting millions in bribes in exchange for broadcasting and hosting rights for top South American tournaments. They all deny charges of racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering.

More than 40 sports executives have been charged by U.S. authorities in the FIFA corruption investigation, which began in 2015. But this week’s trial is the first to emerge so far in the case.

U.S. indicts world soccer officials in alleged $150 million FIFA bribery scandal

Burzaco, the marketing executive who implicated Delhon, is a key witness in the trial. He pleaded guilty in November 2015 to racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering conspiracies and agreed to pay $21.6 million in restitution, AFP reported.

In his testimony Tuesday and Wednesday, Burzaco accused media giants Globo and Televisa of paying millions of dollars in bribes to help secure broadcasting rights to the World Cup in 2026 and 2030. He also implicated Fox Sports in a separate bribery scheme. None of the companies have been charged in the case, and Fox and Globo have denied wrongdoing, the Associated Press reported. Televisa declined to comment.

On Wednesday, less than a day after Delhon died, Burzaco began sobbing on the witness stand and was escorted from the courtroom, according to reporters from the Guardian and BuzzFeed News.

Soccer for All, created by Fernández during her presidency, gave households across the country access to soccer games, free of charge. The program, Reuters wrote, was “emblematic of her populist policymaking.”

Delhon did not come from the world of sports. He joined Soccer for All through his close friendship with Paladino. Delhon worked in Fernández’s Office of the Chief of Staff from 2012-2015. Before that, he served as vice president of Argentina’s water regulatory entity and in the Ministry of Justice, according to Clarín.

After Burzaco implicated Delhon and Paladino in the bribery scheme in court Tuesday, Paladino denied the allegations. He said Soccer for All lacked the budget and the authority to make such payments, according to the Associated Press.

“We could only broadcast,” he told the AP. Fernandez’s administration, he said, was politically responsible.

“They took the political decisions, they bought the rights and later, in a third instance, there was a show like ours, where there were administrative issues in the cabinet chief’s office,” he told the AP. “All we had to do was to broadcast it.”

Paladino contacted his good friend Delhon at about 6:20 p.m., minutes after the news came out, to “calm him down,” he told Buenos Aires news outlet Infobae. He offered to meet Delhon at his house to discuss the allegations against both of them.

“I waited for him in my house and he never arrived,” Paladino told Infobae. “I called him a thousand times …”

By 8 p.m., Delhon was already dead, Infobae reported.

Delhon commuted by train every day to his law firm in the capital, Paladino told Infobae. He has four young children.

“He may have thought of them and of all his family when he heard he was accused of bribes,” Paladino said. “He could not tolerate such a denunciation.”

Paladino called him a “dear friend” and “impeccable man.”

“He is an honest, right man, with family,” Paladino said, “a poor lawyer, an administrative adviser with no connection to politics. It’s incomprehensible.”

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