Ex-Fox execs go on trial in soccer TV rights bribery case


NEW YORK — Two former Fox executives went on trial Tuesday, accused of bribing South American soccer officers for TV rights to one of many continent’s largest annual tournaments and utilizing data gathered within the course of to assist the community’s successful World Cup broadcast bid. It’s the newest case to go to court docket 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, via a partnership with Torneos y Competencias, an Argentine manufacturing and advertising and marketing firm.

Assistant U.S. Lawyer 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 dwell a lifetime of luxurious, to purchase Chanel, to purchase Hermes,” referencing two common luxurious manufacturers.

“Everybody gained apart from the sport of soccer,” Zapana mentioned on the trial in Brooklyn federal court docket, which is predicted to final at the very least a month.

Prosecutors allege the payoffs enabled Lopez and Martinez to additional Fox’s different soccer pursuits, together with gaining confidential data 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 mentioned, helped “broaden Fox’s attain.”

Lopez, a local of Argentina, is the previous chief government of Fox Worldwide Channels. He left the corporate in 2016 to start out the podcasting firm Wondery. Martinez, a local of Mexico, is the previous president of Fox Worldwide’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 during 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 in opposition to 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 group competitors, in addition to World Cup qualifying matches and one-off matches, generally known as friendlies.

Lopez and Martinez’s attorneys contend the previous executives are being framed and retaliated in opposition to by their one-time enterprise accomplice 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, generally known as CONMEBOL, with out Lopez and Martinez’s information. Gleeson mentioned Burzaco was now falsely accusing them to reinforce his value to prosecutors and keep out of jail.

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

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

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

Gleeson described Burzaco as a “strolling, speaking prison enterprise” and a “skilled prison and con man.” He implored jurors to determine “in the event you consider a single phrase he says” and mentioned that his testifying in opposition to Lopez and Martinez was a “probability to get again at his enemy, whom he blames for his demise.”

“You’re going to witness his try at payback,” Gleeson mentioned.

Burzaco has pleaded responsible to racketeering conspiracy and different expenses. He testified in 2017 that each one three South Individuals on the FIFA government committee took million-dollar bribes to help Qatar’s bid for the just lately accomplished 2022 World Cup.

Thus far, greater than two dozen folks have pleaded responsible and two folks have been convicted at trial in circumstances 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.

Observe Michael Sisak on Twitter at twitter.com/mikesisak. Ship confidential suggestions by visiting https://www.ap.org/suggestions/.

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