Former Fox Execs Indicted for Bribing FIFA in World Cup Media Rights War vs ESPN

Posted on: April 7, 2020, 02:07h. 

Last updated on: April 7, 2020, 03:15h.

Two former Fox senior executives were indicted by federal authorities Monday for their part in a multimillion-dollar bribery scheme to secure broadcasting and marketing rights for the 2018 and 2022 FIFA World Cups.

Hernan Lopez (left) and Carlos Martinez are charged with wire fraud and money laundering and could face 20 years in prison. (Image: Getty/LAMAC)

Hernan Lopez, who was until 2016 president and CEO of Fox International Channels, and Carlos Martinez, who until last May was president of Fox Latin America, are accused of organizing kickbacks for South American FIFA officials. It was allegedly done in order to “advance the business interest of Fox” and obtain “confidential bidding information” in a bidding war with ESPN.

In 2017, Fox paid $200 million to secure the rights to broadcast the World Cup in America, which backfired when the US national team failed to qualify for Russia 2018.

Lopez and Martinez are also alleged in the indictments to have made regular payments to members of CONMEBOL, South American soccer’s governing body, to obtain rights to the Copa Libertadores, the continent’s biggest club competition.

“Over a period of many years, the defendants and their co-conspirators corrupted the governance and business of international soccer with bribes and kickbacks, and engaged in criminal fraudulent schemes that caused significant harm to the sport of soccer,” said Assistant Director of the FBI’s New York Field Office William J. Sweeney in an official statement.

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,” added Sweeney.

Rupert Murdoch sold 21 Century Fox to Disney in March last year, several years after the infractions were alleged to have taken place.

Facing 20 Years

Lopez and Martinez are the latest scalps in a sprawling investigation by US federal authorities into FIFA corruption that has been ongoing since at least 2015.

The pair were implicated in testimonies in 2017 by Alejandro Burzaco, former chairman of Torneos y Competencias S.A., an Argentinian sports marketing company.

Burzaco handed himself in to the FBI two years earlier and eventually pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy, wire fraud conspiracy, and money laundering conspiracy, agreeing to forfeit more than $21.6 million as part of his plea bargain and spill the beans on co-conspirators.

Also named in Monday’s indictment is Gerard Romy, former CEO of Barcelona-based multinational media conglomerate Imagina Media Audiovisual SL, along with Argentine sports marketing company Full Play Group.

All four defendants are charged with wire fraud and money laundering offenses and face a possible 20 years in prison. Romy and Full Play face additional racketeering conspiracy charges.

So far, more than 40 individuals and entities have been charged as part of the federal government’s probe into corruption in world soccer.

Qatar and Russia Paid for Votes: Feds

Meanwhile, court documents filed by federal prosecutors Monday accuse ex-President of CONMEBOL Nicolás Leoz, who died last year, and former Brazil federation President Ricardo Teixeira of receiving bribes to vote for Qatar as the venue for the 2022 World Cup.

Meanwhile, Jack Warner, former president of the North and Central American and Caribbean governing body, CONCACAF, is alleged to have accepted $5 million to vote for Russia to host in 2018.

It’s the first time the US Department of Justice has officially accused representatives working for Russia and Qatar of paying corrupt officials to secure hosting rights.