This past Monday, federal authorities in the U.S. officially charged two former executives of Fox for their involvements in a multimillion-dollar bribery plan concocted to try to secure broadcasting rights for certain FIFA soccer tournaments. The pair are accused of putting together schemes to receive kickbacks for FIFA officials in South America in order to “advance the business interest of Fox” and to give the company an edge in a bidding war against ESPN for the rights to air the 2018 and 2022 FIFA World Cups. The duo is now looking at being punished for wire fraud and money laundering, and could be sent to prison for as many as 20 years.
Hernan Lopez was the president and CEO of Fox International Channels until 2016, while Carlos Martinez was the president of Fox Latin America until May of last year. They allegedly conspired to do whatever was necessary to secure the broadcasting and marketing rights for the tournaments, even if it meant breaking the law. However, things fell apart when an investigation into FIFA corruption began in 2015.
That investigation led to Alejandro Burzaco, previously the chairman of Torneos y Competencias S.A., a company out of Argentina that was dedicated to sports marketing. Burzaco had, sensing he would soon be nabbed for his involvement in the larger scandal, turned himself in to the FBI in 2015 and ultimately pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud, conspiracy to launder money and conspiracy to commit racketeering. In order to limit any punitive action against him, he cut a deal with prosecutors and gave up Lopez and Martinez in testimony in 2017.
The assistant director of the FBI’s New York Field Office, William J. Sweeney, said in a statement, “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. 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.”
Lopez and Martinez aren’t the only two to now face public shame for their misguided activity. Over 40 people have been charged with various crimes related to FIFA corruption, including Gerard Romy, the former CEO of Media Audiovisual SL out of Spain, former Brazilian soccer federation president Ricardo Teixeira, former South American CONMEBOL president Nicolas Leoz, former CONCACAF president Jack Warner and former Guatemalan soccer federation president Rafael Salguero. Leoz passed away last year, and Warner and Teixeira have been able to avoid extradition to face charges. In 2018, Salguero pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and one count each of conspiracy to launder money and conspiracy to commit racketeering.
Martinez and Lopez are prepared to defend themselves in court, claiming innocence. The attorney for Lopez, Matthew D. Umhofer, asserts, “It’s shocking that the government would bring such a thin case. The indictment contains nothing more than a single paragraph about Mr. Lopez that alleges nothing remotely improper. Mr. Lopez can’t wait to defend himself at trial.” Martinez’s lawyer, Steven J. McCool, expects a jury will “swiftly exonerate” his client because the charges are only “stale fiction.”
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