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Corruption trial opens over international soccer broadcast rights

A criminal case against two former 21st Century Fox executives and a sports marketing company accused of bribing South American soccer officials to obtain lucrative broadcasting rights was about the corruption of the sport, a prosecutor told a jury in a Brooklyn federal court on Tuesday.

The former Fox executives, Hernan Lopez and Carlos Martinez, and Buenos Aires-based Full Play Group SA have pleaded not guilty to crimes including wire fraud and money laundering conspiracy.

The charges are part of a long-running corruption probe surrounding soccer’s global governing body FIFA.

“This case is about the corruption of international soccer,” prosecutor Victor Zapana told jurors in opening statements, saying the alleged scheme funneled money that could have gone towards building stadiums and developing youth and womens’ leagues into the pockets of corrupt officials.

Zapana said the next several weeks of trial would show how the defendants joined a “culture of corruption” and aimed to cover their tracks using secret ledgers and coded messages.

An attorney for Full Play Group said the allegedly illicit payments were “expected, asked for and even demanded” by South American soccer officials. The “institutionalized” nature of the payments meant Full Play never intended to defraud anyone, lawyer Mayling Blanco said.

Attorneys for Lopez and Martinez were set to make their opening statements Tuesday afternoon.

Prosecutors accuse Lopez and Martinez of scheming to bribe officials at South America’s soccer federation CONMEBOL to win broadcasting rights for that continent’s top club tournament, the Copa Libertadores.

They are also accused of using bribes to help Fox obtain inside information about bidding for U.S. broadcast rights for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. Fox paid $400 million for the English-language rights to both tournaments in 2011.

Walt Disney Co bought most of 21st Century Fox in 2019. Disney is not a defendant.

The charges are part of a sprawling FIFA corruption probe unveiled in May 2015. More than 40 defendants have been criminally charged in the probe, and at least 30 have pleaded guilty. Japan Times

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