Former Fox execs conspired to bribe FIFA officials, prosecution witness says

By Jack Queen

(Reuters) – An Argentine businessman testified on Wednesday that two former 21st Century Fox executives and a sports marketing company conspired with him to bribe South American soccer officials and secure lucrative broadcasting rights.

Alejandro Burzaco, pleaded guilty in 2015 to racketeering and other charges as part of a sprawling corruption probe at the highest echelons of global soccer.

He told jurors in Brooklyn federal court on Wednesday that Hernan Lopez, Carlos Martinez and Full Play Group SA paid bribes to secure below-market contracts, suppress competition and cultivate relationships with elite executives.

Burzaco said that he, Lopez and Martinez collectively paid up to $32 million in bribes together. Full Play Group paid or committed to pay up to $90 million, he said.

“The bribes fulfilled that purpose extremely well,” Burzaco said, adding that the benefits to Fox were “immense” and helped the defendants turn the company’s struggling South American broadcasting business into a profit center.

Walt Disney Co bought most of 21st Century Fox in 2019. Disney is not a defendant, and a representative of the company did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Lopez, Martinez and Full Play Group have pleaded not guilty to crimes including wire fraud and money laundering.

The case stems from a wider probe that has led to more than two-dozen convictions since federal prosecutors first unveiled indictments in 2015.

Prosecutors accused Lopez and Martinez of scheming to bribe officials of South America’s soccer federation CONMEBOL to win media and marketing rights to various tournaments, using shell companies and sham consulting contracts to hide the scheme.

Full Play, which is based in Buenos Aires but incorporated in Uruguay, is accused of targeting officials at CONMEBOL and the North American federation CONCACAF to win rights for events including Copa Libertadores and World Cup qualifying matches.

During opening statements on Tuesday, lawyers for the defendants denied wrongdoing and attacked Burzaco’s credibility, telling jurors his testimony could not be trusted.

Burzaco, who gave similar testimony in the 2017 trial of three soccer executives, on Wednesday described a culture of widespread corruption in South American soccer and its global governing body, FIFA, where executives were treated like “royalty.”

The former chief executive of Argentine sports media company Torneos has yet to be cross-examined and was set to continue testifying on Wednesday afternoon.

(Reporting by Jack Queen in New York; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Bill Berkrot)

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