Two former executives at US-based media giant 21st Century Fox and South American sports marketing agency Full Play have pleaded not guilty to criminal charges in New York as part of the long-running corruption investigation into matters relating to Fifa, world football’s governing body, and regional football confederations.
On April 6, Hernan Lopez and Carlos Martinez, who oversaw Fox’s Latin American sports business, were charged with allegedly paying millions of dollars in bribes to help Fox Sports win the lucrative United States broadcast rights to the 2018 and 2022 Fifa World Cups.
The indictments unsealed in the US District Court in Brooklyn accused the former Fox executives of making payments to unnamed officials from the South American Football Confederation (Conmebol) in exchange for confidential broadcast-rights bidding information.
Lopez, Martinez and Full Play entered their pleas at an arraignment before U.S. District Judge Pamela Chen in Brooklyn on Thursday. Lopez, formerly chief executive of Fox International Channels, and Martinez, formerly president of Fox International Channels, have both been accused of conspiring to bribe officials at Conmebol to win rights to the Copa Libertadores, the continent’s top club competition.
Also charged were Gerard Romy, the former co-chief executive of Spanish media company Imagina and co-founder of Mediapro, and Uruguay-based sports marketing company Full Play. The parties were charged with wire fraud, money laundering and related offences, while Romy and Full Play were also charged with racketeering conspiracy.
Lopez and Martinez have also been accused of using bribes to help Fox secure inside information about the bidding process for US broadcast rights for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. In 2011, Fox secured the US English-language rights for the 2018 and 2022 tournaments, paying $400m (€366.3m) for the contract.
Judge Chen ordered both men to surrender their passports and imposed curfews of 10pm to 6am. Lopez, who is based in Los Angeles, and Martinez, who lives in Miami, agreed to appearance bonds of $15m apiece, with Lopez having originally asked for $500,000.
“I do believe here that there is an incentive to flee depending on how the case proceeds,” Chen said, according to the Associated Press news agency. “The $500,000 is simply not going to be enough. It doesn’t even come close to approximating the equity in his home.”
Full Play also pleaded not guilty to being accused of targeting officials at Conmebol and the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (Concacaf) to win rights for events including the Copa Libertadores and World Cup qualifying matches.
Lopez left his role as chief executive of Fox International Channels at the start of 2016 amid a restructure of the 21st Century Fox’s international television unit. He had been chief executive of FIC since 2011 and was the public face of high-profile international rights deals, including the 80-territory deal for Bundesliga rights announced at the 2013 Sportel trade fair. Upon leaving Fox, Lopez set up Wondery, the US-based podcast network.
Martinez is the former president of Fox Networks Group Latin America and worked for Fox across the Latin America region for 18 years.
Last week’s indictments also included allegations of bribes paid to various Fifa executive committee members in return for their votes for the hosting rights to the 2018 or 2022 World Cups. This was the first time that prosecutors directly accused Russian and Qatari representatives of paying bribes for votes.
In the wake of the announcement, Russian and Qatari officials again strongly denied that any underhand tactics were at play in securing the two tournaments.