NEW YORK (AP) — Two former Fox executives went on trial Tuesday, accused of bribing South American soccer officials for television rights to one of the continent’s biggest annual tournaments and using information gathered in the process to help the chain win the World Cup. It is the latest case to reach court in the extensive FIFA corruption scandal.
Hernán López and Carlos Martínez are accused of paying bribes and kickbacks to officials of the South American Football Confederation to broadcast the Copa Libertadores, an annual club tournament similar to the Champions League in Europe, through a partnership with Torneos y Competencias, an Argentine production and marketing company. .
Assistant U.S. Attorney Victor Zapana told jurors in an opening statement that the alleged bribes, totaling millions of dollars, fueled a system of secret, no-bid, below-market contracts and “allowed disloyal executives to to live a life of luxury, to buy Chanel, to buy Hermes”, referring to two popular luxury brands.
“Everybody won except the football game,” Zapana said at the Brooklyn federal court trial, which is expected to last at least a month.
Prosecutors allege that the bribes allowed López and Martínez to further Fox’s other soccer interests, including obtaining confidential information from a high-ranking FIFA and confederation official about the bidding for US broadcast rights to the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.
The bribes, Zapana said, helped “expand Fox’s reach.”
Lopez, originally from Argentina, is the former CEO of Fox International Channels. He left the company in 2016 to start the Wondery podcast company. Martinez, originally from Mexico, is the former president of the Latin American affiliate of Fox International.
Fox has denied any involvement in bribery. The company sold the entity involved in South American soccer broadcasts in 2019 as part of a larger restructuring in which it divested its movie studio, cable networks and international assets.
Another sports media and marketing company, Full Play Group SA, is on trial with López and Martínez, but the bribery allegations against that company involve different television rights. Full Play, incorporated in Uruguay and owned by father-son duo Hugo and Mariano Jinkis, is accused of paying bribes for the rights to the Copa América, a quadrennial competition for national teams, as well as World Cup qualifying matches and one-off matches. . , known as friendlies.
Lawyers for López and Martínez maintain that the former executives are being framed and retaliated by their former business partner in the Copa Libertadores deals. Alejandro Burzaco, the former head of Torneos, has agreed to cooperate and testify as a main witness for the prosecution in multiple soccer corruption trials following his own arrest for bribery. He is expected to testify on Wednesday.
López’s lawyer, John Gleeson, argued in his opening statement that it was Burzaco who was secretly bribing officials of the South American Confederation, known as CONMEBOL, without the knowledge of López and Martínez. Gleeson said Burzaco was now falsely accusing them to increase his value to prosecutors and keep him out of jail.
López and Martínez began working with Burzaco in 2011, when Fox International Channels took over the South American sports network that had partnered with Torneos on Copa Libertadores broadcasts. Gleeson said Burzaco excluded the executives from negotiations with CONMEBOL and refused to provide them with copies of the contracts.
Gleeson said López was unaware of Burzaco’s conduct — he allegedly bribed CONMEBOL officials and seized some television rights for himself, rather than the Fox partnership — until 2014, when Burzaco’s Uruguayan rival gave him a copy of a renewal contract and an audio recording of the negotiations.
Lopez immediately alerted Fox’s legal and internal audit departments, which sent a team of accountants and investigators to Argentina, Gleeson said. Burzaco was arrested nine months later.
Gleeson described Burzaco as a “walking, talking criminal enterprise” and a “professional criminal and con artist.” He implored jurors to decide “whether they believe a single word he says” and said that testifying against López and Martínez was a “chance to get revenge on his enemy, whom he blames for his death.” .
“You’re going to witness his attempted revenge,” Gleeson said.
Burzaco pleaded guilty to extortion conspiracy and other charges. He testified in 2017 that the three South Americans on FIFA’s executive committee accepted million-dollar bribes to support Qatar’s bid for the recently completed 2022 World Cup.
So far, more than two dozen people have pleaded guilty and two people have been convicted at trial in cases stemming from a US-led investigation into tens of millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks at the highest levels of soccer. Four corporate entities have also entered guilty pleas and four companies have entered into deferred prosecution or non-prosecution agreements.
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