A former Fox executive was convicted Thursday of paying tens of millions of dollars in bribes to obtain broadcast rights to the World Cup and other major soccer matches. A second former executive was acquitted.
A Brooklyn federal jury deliberated four days before returning verdicts. Hernán López, former CEO of Fox International Channels, was convicted. Carlos Martínez, who headed the Latin American affiliate, was acquitted.
Prosecutors said the case revealed the corruption of international soccer. Defense attorneys said the former Fox executives were framed by an admitted criminal who was trying to minimize his own punishment.
An emotional Lopez hugged supporters in the courtroom after hearing the verdict, while his lawyers looked stunned. The judge allowed him to be released on bail pending sentencing. He and his lawyers declined to comment.
Martinez’s attorney, Steve McCool, said “justice for Carlos was served today.”
“The jurors heard that he was an innocent man and should never have been here in the first place,” McCool said outside court.
A South American sports media and marketing company was also convicted on corruption allegations, involving different television rights. Full Play Group SA, incorporated in Uruguay, was accused of paying bribes for the rights to the Copa América, a quadrennial national competition, as well as World Cup qualifying matches.
New York-based Fox Corp., which was spun off from an international channel subsidiary during a 2019 restructuring, was not charged and has denied any involvement in the bribery scandal.
Lopez and Martinez are among dozens of people who have pleaded guilty or been convicted following a US-led investigation into international soccer and its governing federation, FIFA. The investigation came to the fore in 2015, when US prosecutors accused the leaders of soccer federations of tarnishing the sport for nearly a quarter century by taking $150 million in bribes and bribes.
FIFA continued to expand and rebrand its executive leadership group. Then-President Joseph Blatter was ousted and replaced by current President Gianni Infantino, who has insisted the organization has been reformed. However, in recent years he has come under fire for tolerating alleged abuses of migrant workers during the construction of the World Cup stadiums used in Qatar last year and for maintaining lower pay and tournament arrangements for players.
In the case of López and Martínez, the star witness for prosecutors was the executives’ former business partner, Alejandro Burzaco. He has cooperated in soccer corruption investigations since his arrest in 2015 in a related bribery case.
During 11 days on the witness stand, Burzaco said he and the two executives paid millions of dollars in bribes to undermine competing bids for television rights to the southern hemisphere’s biggest annual tournament, the Copa Libertadores, and help to obtain the rights of transmission to the most important of the sport. lucrative competition, the World Cup.
Two jurors who agreed to speak after the trial said Burzaco was not a factor in their decisions.
“We don’t find it credible,” said juror Robert Rose, who works as a lawyer.
Defense attorneys said Burzaco lied about former Fox executives to minimize his own conduct and curry favor with the government before his own sentencing. He pleaded guilty to extortion conspiracy and other charges.
Prosecutors allege the bribes dumped sensitive information from top soccer officials, including those at FIFA, that allowed Fox to beat out rival ESPN and secure US broadcast rights to the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. .