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Soccer

Prosecutors charge two in alleged bribes for World Cup broadcasting rights

Russian fans celebrate Iury Gazinsky's opening goal in the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Group A match between Russia and Saudi Arabia on June 14, 2018, in Moscow.
(Clive Rose / Getty Images )

Two former Fox television executives are facing federal charges for wire fraud and money laundering in connection with a long-running government investigation into alleged bribery and corruption in international soccer.

The charges against Hernan Lopez and Carlos Martinez were made in a 53-count superseding indictment unsealed in federal court in Brooklyn, N.Y., on Monday.

In the last five years, more than 40 individuals and two corporations have been indicted on criminal charges pertaining to the awarding of media and marketing rights for high-profile soccer competitions, including the World Cup, World Cup qualifying, the CONCACAF Gold Cup and the Copa America, South America’s regional championship.

The U.S. attorney in the Eastern District of New York alleged that Lopez, 49, and Martinez, 51, used bribes to gather confidential information during the bidding for broadcast rights to the 2018 and 2022 World Cup tournaments.

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FIFA, the international governing body for soccer, awarded Fox the rights to both competitions in 2011, and four years later added an extension through the 2026 tournament.

“The charges unsealed today reflect this 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,” Richard P. Donoghue, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, said in a statement. “Companies and individuals alike should understand that, regardless of their wealth or power, they will be brought to justice if they use the U.S. financial system to further corrupt ends.”

Major League Soccer announced Thursday that it will suspend its season another four weeks, to May 10, a delay that figures to push the MLS Cup into December.

Prosecutors charged Lopez and Martinez with making bribes in annual payments of millions of dollars to South American soccer officials in exchange for the broadcasting rights to the world’s biggest tournaments. The U.S. broadcasting rights for the World Cup had been held by ESPN since 1994.

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“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,” the indictment said. “In addition, the schemes bad 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.”

Martinez, who lives in Florida, was chief executive of Fox Networks in Latin America. Lopez, of Los Angeles, was head of Fox International Channels. Lopez left the company in 2016. That same year, he, with financial backing from Fox, founded Wondery, a podcast network that worked with the Los Angeles Times on an adaptation of the “Dirty John,” a true-crime series by staff writer Christopher Goffard.

Martinez left Fox in May of last year. He and Lopez are scheduled to be arraigned Thursday in Brooklyn. They each face maximum penalties of 20 years in prison. Attorneys for both men said their clients were innocent and predicted swift exoneration.

Soccer officials voted Tuesday to postponed the European Championships and the Copa America because of the coronavirus pandemic.
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Also named in the indictment, which was delivered by a grand jury on March 18, are former Imagina Media Audiovisual CEO Gerard Romy and the Uruguayan sports marketing company Full Play Group SA. The Justice Department said the charges against Romy and Full Play allege racketeering conspiracy.

“As charged in the indictment, over a period of many years, the defendants and their co-conspirators corrupted the governance and business of international soccer with bribes and kickbacks and engaged in criminal fraudulent schemes that caused significant harm to the sport of soccer,” said Ryan L. Korner, special agent in charge for the IRS. “Their schemes included the use of shell companies, sham consulting contracts and other concealment methods to disguise the bribes and kickback payments.”


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