Two former 21st Century Fox executives have been charged with allegedly paying millions of dollars in bribes to help Fox Sports win the lucrative United States broadcasting rights to the 2018 and 2022 Fifa World Cups.
Hernan Lopez and Carlos Martinez, who oversaw Fox’s Latin American sports business, were indicted in Brooklyn federal court on accusations of making payments to unnamed officials from South American federation Conmebol in exchange for confidential broadcast-rights bidding information.
Martinez and Lopez have also been accused using bribes and kickbacks to land the broadcasting rights to the Copa Libertadores and other tournaments. Prosecutors allege they then “used the loyalty secured through the payment of bribes” to “advance the business interests of Fox” and get the bidding information.
Also charged are Gerard Romy, the former co-chief executive of Spanish media company Imagina Media Audiovisual SL, and Uruguayan sports marketing company Full Play Group SA.
In 2011, Fox gained the US English-language rights for the 2018 and 2022 tournaments. In 2015, Fifa controversially awarded Fox the rights for the 2026 event – which will be co-hosted by the US, Canada and Mexico – without a competitive bidding process.
They are the latest charges in a long-running investigation of corruption surrounding beleaguered world governing body Fifa, which began in 2015 and resulted in the downfall and arrest of several soccer executives.
“By conspiring to enrich themselves through bribery and kickback schemes relating to the sale of media and marketing rights to various soccer tournaments and events, among other schemes, the defendants deprived Fifa, the confederations and their constituent organizations — and, therefore, the national member associations, national teams, youth leagues and development programs that relied on financial support from their parent organizations – of the full value of those rights,” read the indictment, which was unsealed on April 6.
“The schemes had powerful anti-competitive effects, distorting the market for the commercial rights associated with soccer and undermining the ability of other sports marketing companies to compete for such rights on terms more favorable to the rights-holders.”
Both Fox executives, who could face a maximum 20 years in jail, maintain their innocence.
“We are certain that a jury will swiftly exonerate Carlos of these charges which are nothing more than stale fiction,” said Steven McCool, a lawyer for Martinez.
“It’s shocking that the government would bring such a thin case,” said Lopez’s lawyer Matthew Umhofer. “The indictment contains nothing more than single paragraph about Mr. Lopez that alleges nothing remotely improper. Mr Lopez can’t wait to defend himself at trial.”