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Former Fox execs in Brooklyn court as FIFA corruption case kicks off

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 will reveal “a culture of corruption,” 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 FIFA, the world governing body for soccer.

“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 women’s 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.

An attorney for Lopez told jurors his client was not aware of the bribes and immediately reported them to Fox upon learning of them.

“The evidence will show he had no reason to get involved in this crime,” lawyer John Gleeson said.

Martinez’s lawyer told jurors that the government’s case rests largely on testimony from cooperating witnesses who lack credibility.

“There are no emails corroborating any of this,” lawyer Steven McCool said.

Argentine businessman Alejandro Burzaco is set to testify as the government’s star witness, reprising a role he played in 2017, when he took the stand against three former soccer officials in a related case. Burzaco pleaded guilty to criminal charges in 2015 and admitted to paying more than $160 million in bribes. He has yet to be sentenced.

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. Reuters

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