Ex-TV Executives Charged With Bribery for World Cup Rights

(Bloomberg) -- Two former 21st Century Fox executives were charged with paying bribes to win the U.S. rights to broadcast the 2018 and 2022 World Cup tournaments as part of a long-running U.S. investigation of corruption in organized soccer.

Hernan Lopez and Carlos Martinez were also accused of wire fraud, money laundering and trying to get confidential bidding information for the World Cups. The two men used their positions in the world of international soccer so that Fox would win the lucrative rights, U.S. prosecutors in Brooklyn, New York, said Monday.

The charges stem from an international crackdown on corruption in FIFA, international soccer’s governing body, that began with a predawn raid at a luxury Zurich hotel in May 2015. The probe brought down some of the biggest names in soccer, including the ouster of Joseph “Sepp” Blatter, who was FIFA’s president for 17 years.

Juan Angel Napout, a Paraguayan who was president of CONMEBOL, the governing body for South American soccer was sentenced to nine years in prison in 2018 after being convicted by a U.S. jury of getting $3.4 million in bribes and soliciting almost $25 million. Jose Maria Marin, 87, the former head of Brazil’s soccer federation, who was convicted of pocketing $3 million in bribes from sports marketing executives, was sentenced to four years in prison

In Monday’s indictment, prosecutors alleged that bribes and kickbacks were paid in connection with FIFA’s selection of countries to host various editions of the World Cup, including the 2018 World Cup in Russia and the 2022 World Cup scheduled for Qatar.

“Their schemes included the use of shell companies, sham consulting contracts and other concealment methods to disguise the bribes and kickback payments and make them appear legitimate,” Ryan Korner, Special Agent-in-Charge, Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation in Los Angeles, said in a statement.

Lopez and Martinez were executives responsible for developing and carrying out Fox Sport’s broadcasting business in Latin America. Prosecutors said they teamed up with the sports marketing firm Full Play Group SA, to annually pay millions of dollars in bribes to officials from CONMEBOL.

“We are certain that a jury will swiftly exonerate Carlos of these charges which are nothing more than stale fiction,” said Steven McCool, a lawyer for Martinez.

“It’s shocking that the government would bring such a thin case,” said Matthew Umhofer, a lawyer for Lopez. “The indictment contains nothing more than single paragraph about Mr. Lopez that alleges nothing remotely improper. Mr. Lopez can’t wait to defend himself at trial.”

Fox’s sports business was first implicated at the 2017 trial of three former FIFA executives. Alejandro Burzaco, the former chief executive officer of sports-marketing company Torneos y Competencias SA and a government witness, testified that the company sought to use “the TV rights to expand its Fox signal in all of the Americas, from Argentina to the U.S.A.

Fox didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. Walt Disney Co., which purchased 21st Century Fox’s entertainment assets, also didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Also charged on Monday were Gerard Romy, former co-chief executive officer of Imagina Media Audiovisual SL, a Spanish media company and Full Play Group, an Argentine sports marketing company.

Robert Giuffra Jr., a lawyer for Romy, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Lopez, Martinez and Full Play are scheduled to be arraigned on April 9. Lawyers for the defendants couldn’t be immediately reached for comment.

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