Fox Sports could be at center of FIFA trial in Brooklyn

The World Cup may be over, but the FIFA corruption scandal never seems to end.

Almost eight years after a series of pre-dawn raids exposed corruption at the highest levels of international football, and more than five years after the conclusion of the first trial under the Ministry of Justice’s sprawling investigation Justice on corruption in sport, a second trial is about to begin. Tuesday in federal court in Brooklyn.

Once again, the defendants are accused of being involved in complex schemes to pay millions of dollars in exchange for match rights. Once again, prosecutors should be focusing on the same tournaments and relying on many of the same witnesses. They will present their case before the same judge in the same courtroom and, they hope, add three more convictions to the already impressive record of the long-running case: to date, the government has secured 29 convictions in the case. .

But after years of focusing on football officials and sports bureaucrats, the new trial has the potential to take a dramatic turn: revelations about the involvement of one of FIFA’s most important media partners , Fox Corporation, in a secret scheme to pay millions of dollars in bribes. to strengthen its position in international football – and to grab the sport’s biggest broadcast prize, the rights to the World Cup itself, from a rival network.

Fox himself is not on trial. But the fact that two of its former executives have been accused of orchestrating bribes, concealing payments and tampering with inside information could damage the reputation of the $17 billion media giant and breathe new life into it. to a corruption investigation that once captured the world’s attention but long ago disappeared from the news.

“This case involves a legacy business that has no connection to the new Fox Corporation,” a company spokesperson said in a statement. “We cooperated fully and respect the legal process.” The spokesperson added that the Fox affiliate accused of being involved in kickbacks, which was part of a company then known as 21st Century Fox, was sold in 2019.

Since the conclusion of the last lawsuit, FIFA, the football governing body, based in Zurich, has managed to organize two World Cups – in Russia in 2018 and in Qatar last year – and record banking income, while presenting himself as the victim of his own corruption. This strategy has been successful: last summer, the Ministry of Justice returned $92 million of the money it had recovered in the case to FIFA and its federations, as part of a plan to award football bodies more than $200 million in global restitution.

Gianni Infantino, the current FIFA president, has repeatedly claimed that the organization he leads is now free from corruption. But the case, at least in the opinion of the Department of Justice, is far from over.

In the trial beginning this week, Hernán López, the former chief executive of Fox International Channels, and Carlos Martínez, who served as president of the subsidiary’s Latin American operations, face charges of wire fraud and money laundering. ‘money. Prosecutors accused them of organizing a scheme to pay bribes to ‘advance the interests of Fox’ and help the company secure the TV rights to the popular Southern Championship Copa Libertadores -American clubs and the World Cup. If found guilty, López and Martínez face up to 20 years in prison.

A third defendant in the lawsuit, Argentine sports marketing company Full Play Group SA, faces a long list of charges for what prosecutors described as years of bribes to win tournament rights . If found guilty, he could join a short and ignominious list of companies convicted of crimes in the United States, including banks, energy companies and the Trump Organization.

Lawyers for the three defendants declined to discuss the case, as did a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York. But new convictions in federal court could help prosecutors justify the millions of dollars spent on an investigation that began in secret more than a dozen years ago and has long since more than proven its point. : that world football has a deep corruption problem and – above all – that almost nothing is beyond the reach of American justice.

The Brooklyn trial, which is expected to last four to six weeks, largely concerns activities in South America. According to the March 2020 indictment, López, who holds U.S. and Argentine citizenship, and Martínez, a dual citizen of the United States and Mexico, helped pay and conceal “annual bribes and bribes” to at least 14 football officials to secure television rights. to two lucrative annual club championships, the Copa Libertadores and the Copa Sudamericana.

Prosecutors also allege that López and Martínez used a relationship forged through bribes to obtain “confidential information” from a senior Argentine FIFA official who helped the company secure the U.S. broadcast rights to the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. The rights to the event had been held by ESPN since the 1994 edition of the tournament, but in 2011 Fox announced that it had snatched them up. Four years later, FIFA announced that it had also granted Fox the rights to the incredibly lucrative 2026 World Cup, to be held in the United States, Canada and Mexico, without even giving ESPN a chance to tender.

The allegations involving Fox appear to match testimony from the 2017 trial given by Alejandro Burzaco, the former chief executive of Argentine sports marketing firm Torneos, who pleaded guilty in the case and cooperated with the government.

As the prosecution’s star witness, he claimed that López and Martínez helped conceal $3.7 million in bribes using a bogus contract with a company partly owned by Fox.

Fox denied any knowledge of kickbacks, saying at the time that “any suggestion that Fox Sports knew of or approved of kickbacks is categorically false.” López and Martínez have flatly denied the charges against them in court filings, saying any bribes would have been paid by Burzaco.

López left Fox in January 2016, seven months after the first indictment in the FIFA case, and went on to found podcasting company Wondery, which he sold to Amazon for $300 million nine months later. being indicted in the football case.

His fate and that of Martínez could hinge heavily on new testimony from Burzaco, who is again expected to be the government’s main witness – and, potentially, the source of any major revelation.

nytimes sport

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