Justice hasn’t been swift in the ongoing FIFA scandal that began in May 2015. However, on Tuesday, two former international Fox executives will stand trial. While it should be made clear that the network itself isn’t on trial, they will have a vested interest in what may be discussed.

According to Ken Bensinger of The New York Times, Hernán López and Carlos Martínez are accused of wire fraud and money laundering charges as they allegedly bribed FIFA to get Fox the broadcasting rights to tournaments like the Copa Libertadores, Copa Sudamericana, and the World Cup. López was the former chief executive of Fox International Channels and Martínez was president of Fox International’s Latin American operations.

Separate from Fox, an Argentine sports marketing firm named Full Play Group SA, is also on trial on similar charges as López and Martínez.

Fox was implicated years ago due to testimony given by Alejandro Burzaco, who pled guilty to bribery and is now cooperating with the U.S. government. Burzaco is a former chief executive of Torneos y Competencias SA, an Argentine media company that broadcasts some of the top soccer tournaments in Argentina. A Cayman Islands registered company called T&T controlled the exclusive broadcasting rights to various tournaments and sold them off to broadcasters like Torneos and Fox. T&T was owned by Torneos and a Fox affiliate. Burzaco accused López and Martínez of “covering up $3.7 million in bribes by using a phony contract with a firm partially owned by Fox.” Torneos paid $112.8 million to the Department of Justice in exchange for the DOJ dropping a wire fraud conspiracy charge.

Fox, López, and Martínez all denied any accused involvement by Burzaco. Fox said at the time that “any suggestion that Fox Sports knew of or approved of any bribes is emphatically false,” while both López and Martínez claimed that “any bribes would have been paid by Burzaco.”

While Fox has the rights to 2018, 2022, and 2026 World Cups in the United States, this upcoming trial mainly focuses on alleged dealings in South America. That being said, while the U.S. World Cup rights negotiations are not the focus, the NYT revealed that prosecutors “contend” that López and Martínez may have had a hand in how Fox got World Cup rights in the United States.

“Prosecutors also contend that López and Martínez used relationships forged through bribes to obtain “confidential information” from a top FIFA executive from Argentina that helped the company secure the American broadcast rights to the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. Rights to the event had been held by ESPN since the 1994 edition of the tournament, but in 2011, Fox announced it had snatched them away. Four years later, FIFA announced it had also awarded Fox rights to the incredibly lucrative 2026 World Cup, to be held in the United States, Canada and Mexico, without so much as giving ESPN a chance to bid.”

The trial is expected to last between four and six weeks. If López and Martínez are convicted, they could face up to 20 years in prison.

[The New York Times]

About Phillip Bupp

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