A federal jury in Brooklyn found a former Fox employee and an Argentine sports marketing firm guilty of paying bribes in exchange for lucrative soccer broadcasting contracts on Thursday. The trial lasted seven weeks, during which time the jury heard testimony that was often difficult to understand regarding television contracts, codes of ethics, and the interpretation of Spanish phrases found in emails sent more than a dozen years ago.
Hernán López, who up until 2016 worked for a division of what was then known as 21st Century Fox and was accused of taking part in a complex scheme to make millions of dollars in covert annual payments to the presidents of national soccer federations in order to secure the rights to widely watched South American soccer tournaments such as the Copa Libertadores and the Copa Sudamericana, the prosecutors said. These tournaments are known as the Copa Libertadores and the Copa The marketing business known as Full Play Group was suspected of having a similar but even more widespread corruption problem. According to the prosecution, bribes were paid in order to get the rights to participate in World Cup qualifications, exhibition matches, the Copa America tournament, and the Copa Libertadores tournament.
López, who has citizenship in both the United States and Argentina, was found guilty of one count of money laundering conspiracy and one count of wire fraud conspiracy, and he faces a possible maximum sentence of forty years in prison for each count. Full Play was found guilty on six charges of fraud and money laundering, and the company now faces the possibility of having to pay fines and restitution.
The convictions constitute what Breon S. Peace, the United States attorney for the Eastern District of New York, termed “a stunning win” in the comprehensive investigation into corruption in international soccer that was conducted by the Justice Department.
When a covert investigation was initiated in 2010, the case came to the attention of the general public in May of 2015 when stunning predawn arrests were made in Zurich, the city that is home to FIFA, the governing organisation of soccer on a global scale. Since then, over twenty-two people and corporations have voluntarily entered guilty pleas to a broad array of offences, including racketeering and wire fraud, among others. In addition, in 2017, a separate federal jury found guilty two soccer officials, one from Paraguay and the other from Brazil, of conspiracy to commit wire fraud as well as other counts.
The attorney representing Full Play, Carlos Ortiz, refused to comment on the matter. Hugo and Mariano Jinkis, father and son entrepreneurs from Argentina, established the firm in 2015. Both were prosecuted in 2015 but were not deported at the time. Hugo Jinkis’s legal counsel said that they were unable to comment on the news right away.
After a lengthy and difficult proceeding, the jury finally reached a decision on Thursday, the fourth day of deliberations. The jury was provided with reams of contracts, financial spreadsheets, and bank transfer records, in addition to hearing from expert experts who discussed whether a certain phrase meant “pay him less” or “pay it less.”
At one point, early on in the trial, the judge cautioned the lead prosecutor, Kaitlin T. Farrell, that she ran the danger of losing the focus of the jury if she continued to read complete emails into the official record about business matters.
Burzaco also detailed the use of a relationship that was cultivated through the payment of bribes to Julio Grondona, who was a FIFA vice president and the longtime president of Argentina’s soccer association before his death in 2014. This relationship was used to gain inside information that assisted Fox in winning the rights to broadcast the 2018 and 2022 World Cups in the English-speaking market in the United States. ESPN has long maintained ownership of that prized asset.
Burzaco said that he had sought Grondona for assistance late in 2011 at Lopez’s request, despite the fact that the bidding process was meant to have been blind. Burzaco stated that Grondona had informed him, “tell your friends, if Fox invests $400 million, they are going to give it to Fox.” Grondona’s statement was made in the context of Burzaco’s testimony. In the end, Fox forked up $425 million in order to get the rights to broadcast the 2026 World Cup, which is scheduled to take place in the United States of America, Canada, and Mexico.
Full Play chose an approach that was quite different from Lopez’s and Martinez’s, despite the fact that both of them maintained their innocence and claimed they were unaware that any payments had been paid. The corporation’s attorneys easily agreed that the company had made monthly payments to Latin American soccer authorities; however, they contended that such payments had not been bribes but rather were merely the customary manner of doing business in relation to South American soccer.