Ex-Fox Executives Go On Trial In Soccer TV Rights Bribery Case

NEW YORK (AP) — Two former Fox executives went on trial Tuesday, accused of bribing South American soccer officers for TV rights to one of many continent’s greatest annual tournaments and utilizing info gathered within the course of to assist the community’s successful World Cup broadcast bid. It’s the newest case to go to courtroom within the sprawling FIFA corruption scandal.

Hernan Lopez and Carlos Martinez are charged with paying bribes and kickbacks to South American Soccer Confederation officers to broadcast the Copa Libertadores, an annual membership event akin to the Champions League in Europe, by way of a partnership with Torneos y Competencias, an Argentine manufacturing and advertising and marketing firm.

Assistant U.S. Legal professional Victor Zapana instructed jurors in a gap assertion that the alleged bribes — totaling hundreds of thousands of {dollars} — fueled a system of secret, no-bid, below-market contracts and “allowed disloyal soccer executives to live a life of luxury, to buy Chanel, to buy Hermes,” referencing two in style luxurious manufacturers.

“Everyone won except for the game of soccer,” Zapana stated on the trial in Brooklyn federal courtroom, which is anticipated to final a minimum of a month.

Prosecutors allege the payoffs enabled Lopez and Martinez to additional Fox’s different soccer pursuits, together with gaining confidential info from a high-ranking FIFA and confederation official about bidding for U.S. broadcast rights to the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.

The bribes, Zapana stated, helped “expand Fox’s reach.”

Assistant US Legal professional Victor Zapana offers his opening assertion whereas pointing to Hernan Lopez far left in purple tie, in Brooklyn federal courtroom, Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2023, in New York. (Elizabeth Williams by way of AP)

Lopez, a local of Argentina, is the previous chief government of Fox International Channels. He left the corporate in 2016 to begin the podcasting firm Wondery. Martinez, a local of Mexico, is the previous president of Fox International’s Latin America affiliate.

Fox has denied any involvement in bribery. The corporate bought the entity concerned within the South American soccer broadcasts in 2019 as half of a bigger restructuring through which it offloaded its film studio, cable networks and worldwide property.

One other sports activities media and advertising and marketing firm, Full Play Group SA, is on trial with Lopez and Martinez, however the bribery allegations towards that agency contain totally different TV rights. Full Play, integrated in Uruguay and owned by the father-son duo Hugo and Mariano Jinkis, is accused of paying bribes for the rights to the Copa America, a quadrennial nationwide workforce competitors, in addition to World Cup qualifying matches and one-off matches, referred to as friendlies.

Lopez and Martinez’s attorneys contend the previous executives are being framed and retaliated towards by their one-time enterprise companion on the Copa Libertadores offers. Alejandro Burzaco, the previous head of Torneos, agreed to cooperate and testify as a star prosecution witness at a number of soccer corruption trials after his personal bribery arrest. He’s anticipated to testify Wednesday.

Lopez’s lawyer, John Gleeson, argued in his opening assertion that it was Burzaco who was secretly bribing officers on the South American confederation, referred to as CONMEBOL, with out Lopez and Martinez’s data. Gleeson stated Burzaco was now falsely accusing them to reinforce his value to prosecutors and keep out of jail.

Former 21st Century Fox executive Hernan Lopez arrives to Federal court in Brooklyn, Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2023, in New York. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Former twenty first Century Fox government Hernan Lopez arrives to Federal courtroom in Brooklyn, Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2023, in New York. (AP Photograph/John Minchillo)

Lopez and Martinez began working with Burzaco in 2011, when Fox International Channels took over the South American sports activities community that had been partnering with Torneos on the Copa Libertadores broadcasts. Gleeson stated Burzaco shut the executives out of negotiations with CONMEBOL and refused to supply them with copies of contracts.

Gleeson stated Lopez was unaware of Burzaco’s conduct — allegedly bribing CONMEBOL officers and snagging some TV rights for himself, as an alternative of the Fox partnership — till 2014, when Burzaco’s Uruguayan rival gave him a duplicate of a renewal contract and an audio recording of the negotiations.

Lopez instantly alerted Fox’s inside audit and authorized departments, which dispatched a workforce of accountants and investigators to Argentina, Gleeson stated. Burzaco was arrested 9 months later.

Gleeson described Burzaco as a “walking, talking criminal enterprise” and a “professional criminal and con man.” He implored jurors to determine “if you believe a single word he says” and stated that his testifying towards Lopez and Martinez was a “chance to get back at his enemy, whom he blames for his demise.”

“You’re going to witness his attempt at payback,” Gleeson stated.

Burzaco has pleaded responsible to racketeering conspiracy and different costs. He testified in 2017 that every one three South People on the FIFA government committee took million-dollar bribes to assist Qatar’s bid for the not too long ago accomplished 2022 World Cup.

To date, greater than two dozen individuals have pleaded responsible and two individuals have been convicted at trial in instances stemming from a U.S.-led investigation into tens of hundreds of thousands of {dollars} in bribes and kickbacks at soccer’s highest ranges. 4 company entities additionally pleaded responsible and 4 firms have entered into deferred prosecution or non-prosecution agreements.