Ex-Fox execs charged as US prosecutors allege further bribes in Fifa probe
By Simon Ward
Two former executives of media giant 21st Century Fox have been named together with various ex-Fifa officials in a new indictment alleging the paying of millions of dollars in bribes emanating from the long-running US probe into corruption at soccer's governing body.
The charges announced by the US Department of Justice on Monday cover bribes said to have been paid for media and marketing rights to top international soccer tournaments, but also to help Russia and Qatar win the right to host the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, respectively.
Hernan Lopez, the former chief executive of Fox International Channels, and Carlos Martinez, the former president of Fox Latin America, have been charged with wire fraud and money laundering offences related to the alleged paying of bribes to South American soccer officials.
In particular, prosecutors claim that the pair “relied on loyalty secured through the payment of bribes” to the officials to help Fox secure the US broadcast rights to the two aforementioned World Cups.
Fox was later awarded rights to the 2026 World Cup, to be co-hosted by USA, Canada and Mexico, without a competitive bidding process.
The so-called Fifa-gate probe has been running since 2015, and the other newly-charged executives and entities include Gerard Romy, the former co-chief executive of Spain-based media company Imagina, the parent company of Mediapro, and Full Play Group, a Uruguayan sports marketing firm.
Lopez and Martinez are accused of collaborating with Full Play to pay bribes to executives of Conmebol, the South American soccer confederation, for rights to the Copa Libertadores, the continent’s top clubs competition.
Fox, which was sold by media tycoon Rupert Murdoch to Walt Disney for $71 billion last year, has yet to comment.
Lawyers representing Lopez and Martinez, who are due to appear before a federal court in Brooklyn this week, have insisted they are innocent.
Matthew Umhofer, representing Lopez, said: “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.”
Steven McCool, on behalf of Martinez, said: “We are certain a jury will swiftly exonerate Carlos, as these charges are nothing more than stale fiction.”
The indictment alleges that Romy, the co-founder of Mediapro, was involved in a scheme to bribe officials of the Caribbean Football Union and Central American Football Union to secure rights to World Cup qualifying matches.
As part of that scheme, Jeffrey Webb, the disgraced former president of Concacaf, the governing body body for North and Central America and the Caribbean, is said to have received a bribe of $3 million for media and marketing rights to qualifiers in the Caribbean in the 2018 and 2022 cycle.
Romy's lawyers have declined to comment.
In July 2018, Imagina reached a settlement with the US Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of New York worth about $20 million in criminal fines, payments to the affected soccer federations and forfeited profits relating to the case.
Full Play, owned by Argentine father and son Hugo and Mario Jinkis, who were indicted individually in 2015, is charged with involvement in schemes to bribe Concacaf and Conmebol officials for rights to events including World Cup qualifiers, friendlies, the Copa Libertadores and the Copa America.
World Cup bids For the first time, the US prosecutors allege that Fifa officials were paid bribes to vote for Russia and Qatar to host the two World Cups in a controversial bidding process that concluded in 2010.
Nicolás Leoz, another former Conmebol president, who died last year, Ricardo Teixeira, who previously headed up the CBF, and a third unnamed South American official (understood to be the late Julio Grondona) are said to have been bribed to vote for Qatar, while Jack Warner, the former president of Concacaf, the governing body for soccer in North and Central America and the Caribbean, is accused of receiving $5 million in bribes to vote for Russia, while Rafael Salguero, the former president of the Guatemalan federation, was promised $1 million to do the same.
The four named officials were also cited in previous indictments, but Leoz, who died last year, Teixeira and Warner were not extradited to USA to face charges. In 2018, Salguero pleaded guilty to two counts of wire fraud conspiracy and one count each of racketeering conspiracy and money laundering conspiracy.
Teixeira and Warner, who hails from Trinidad and Tobago, have already been banned from all soccer activity for life by Fifa, while Salguero is serving a seven-year ban.
In 2017, Alejandro Burzaco, the Argentine former head of sports marketing agency Torneos y Competencias, testified that South American officials had received bribes to vote for Qatar to host the 2022 World Cup.
There have long been doubts over the legitimacy of the voting that decided the destinations of the 2018 and 2022 tournaments, but, following an investigation, Fifa found insufficient grounds to reopen the bidding process.
The 2018 event went ahead as planned in Russia, while Qatar is continuing with preparations for the next competition, to be held in November and December of 2022.
Presenting the latest charges on Monday, Richard Donghue, the US Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, said: "The charges unsealed today reflect the Office's ongoing commitment to rooting out corruption at the highest levels of international soccer and at the businesses engaged in promoting and broadcasting the sport.
"Companies and individuals alike should understand that, regardless of their wealth or power, they will be brought to justice if they use the US financial system to further corrupt ends."
The US probe into corruption in international soccer went public in May 2015 with the famous dawn raid on a hotel in Zurich where Fifa officials were staying ahead of the federation's congress. More than 40 individuals and entities have been charged in the last five years, with 26 pleading guilty.
Those sent to prison have included Juan Angel Napout, the former president of Conmebol, and José Maria Marin, the ex-president of Brazil’s CBF, who were convicted after a trial in 2017. The 87-year-old Marin was granted early release, on health grounds, last month.
Webb pleaded guilty to various counts in November 2015, and is still awaiting sentencing.