Former Fox executive convicted in FIFA bribery case around rights to World Cup matches
A former 21st Century Fox executive has been convicted and another acquitted over a scheme to bribe South American football officials to secure lucrative broadcasting rights.
Jurors in a Brooklyn federal court found Hernan Lopez guilty but acquitted Carlos Martinez on the same charges.
South American sports media and marketing company Full Play Group SA also was convicted of graft involving different TV rights.
Incorporated in Uruguay, it was accused of paying bribes for the rights to the Copa America, a quadrennial national team competition, as well as to World Cup qualifying matches.
A cooperating witness testified that he paid tens of millions of dollars in bribes for World Cup qualifiers and other high-profile matches with the blessing of defendants Mr Martinez and Lopez, both former Fox executives.
Mr Martinez and Lopez denied wrongdoing. Their lawyers claimed the witness, Argentinian businessman Alejandro Burzaco, falsely accused the two men in hopes of getting a lighter sentence under his plea agreement with prosecutors. A lawyer for Burzaco denied those claims.
The case stems from a sweeping probe of corruption in international football and governing body FIFA that has resulted in scores of convictions since US and international authorities made their first arrests in 2015.
Jurors saw emails, contracts and business records that prosecutors say revealed a years-long plot by Mr Martinez and Lopez to advance their careers by funnelling payments to football officials through sham contracts and consulting agreements.
The government’s case hinged largely on testimony by Burzaco, who has yet to be sentenced.
During 11 days on the witness stand, Burzaco said he and the two executives paid millions of dollars in bribes to undermine competing bids for the TV rights to the Southern Hemisphere’s biggest annual tournament, the Copa Libertadores, and help land broadcasting rights to the World Cup.
Prosecutors allege the pay-offs yielded confidential information from high-ranking soccer officials, including those at FIFA, that enabled Fox to beat out rival ESPN and secure US broadcasting rights to the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.
Defence lawyers said Burzaco lied about the former Fox executives to minimise his own conduct and curry favour with the government ahead of his own sentencing after pleading guilty to racketeering conspiracy and other charges.
Burzaco told jurors that Mr Martinez and Lopez discussed the scheme during multiple meetings.
Lawyers for Mr Martinez and Lopez denied Burzaco’s account and said their clients were unaware of his scheme.
None of the emails and documents cited by prosecutors directly implicated the two men in the scheme, they argued.
Prosecutors said Burzaco’s testimony was “devastating” and alleged that emails showed him discussing the bribes with Mr Martinez and Lopez in coded terms. ABC News