Two former Fox Sports executives have been charged with participating in an alleged scheme to pay millions of dollars in bribes to soccer officials in exchange for broadcasting rights.
Hernan Lopez and Carlos Martinez helped bribe officials at Conmebol, FIFA’s soccer confederation in South America, according to a U.S. grand jury indictment unsealed Monday. The two men were high-ranking executives of a Fox Sports international subsidiary, where they were responsible for developing Fox’s sports broadcasting business in South America, prosecutors said.
The charges are part of a sprawling corruption investigation into FIFA that was first revealed in 2015, when federal prosecutors in New York unsealed racketeering and bribery related charges against some of the organization’s most prominent figures.
Mr. Lopez, a 47-year-old dual U.S. and Argentine citizen, who served as chief executive of the Fox Sports subsidiary, and Mr. Martinez, a 51-year-old dual U.S. and Mexican citizen who served as its president, were charged with wire fraud and money laundering, according to the indictment.
“We are certain a jury will swiftly exonerate Carlos, as these charges are nothing more than stale fiction,” Steven McCool, a lawyer for Mr. Martinez, said in a statement.
Matthew Umhofer, a lawyer for Mr. Lopez, attacked the government for bringing the charges against his client. “The indictment contains nothing more than a single paragraph about Mr. Lopez that alleges nothing remotely improper,” Mr. Umhofer said in a statement.
Mr. Lopez now serves as the chief executive of the podcast company Wondery, and is an executive producer on an upcoming drama based on the life of tiger breeder Joseph Maldonado-Passage, also known as Joe Exotic, the subject of Netflix’s recent hit series, “Tiger King.”
Prosecutors on Monday also charged Gerard Romy, a 65-year-old former executive of a Spanish media company, and Full Play Group SA, a sports marketing company based in Argentina, with wire fraud, money laundering and racketeering.
A lawyer for Mr. Romy declined to comment. A lawyer for Full Play said the company would plead not guilty to the charges and planned to vigorously defend itself at trial. The company, along with Messrs. Lopez and Martinez, are scheduled to be arraigned on Thursday.
In addition to charging the four new defendants, the latest indictment for the first time directly alleges that several of FIFA’s top executives received bribes to support Russia and Qatar’s respective bids to host the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. The Qatari and Russian bid teams have denied wrongdoing.
The vote to pick the hosts, held in Zurich in December 2010, became one of the most notorious moments in soccer history. In a field that included strong contenders such as England, the U.S. and Spain, long-shot campaigns by Russia and Qatar came out on top in a ballot of 22 members of FIFA’s ruling executive committee. Of those 22, more than half eventually left the organization under ethical or criminal investigation.
The moments that allegedly swung the vote, Monday’s indictment said, came in payments amounting to millions of dollars funneled through shell companies in the weeks before executives gathered in Switzerland.
Former FIFA executive Jack Warner, for example, allegedly received some $5 million to pick Russia as the tournament’s 2018 host, the indictment said. Mr. Warner, who was indicted in the U.S. in 2015, has been fighting extradition from his native Trinidad and Tobago.
Prosecutors at the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York have secured 26 guilty pleas and convicted two individuals at trial as part of the investigation into FIFA. Fox Sports was first implicated in the case during a trial in Brooklyn in 2017, when a government witness testified that a joint venture partly owned by the company had signed a phony contract in 2008 with an Argentine media company to facilitate $3.7 million in bribes.
A spokeswoman for Fox Sports declined to comment Monday on the indictment. The company at the time of the 2017 trial said it hadn’t known or approved of any bribes.
Fox Sports parent Fox Corp. and Wall Street Journal parent News Corp share common ownership. The subsidiary where Messrs. Lopez and Martinez worked, Fox International Channels, was absorbed by Walt Disney Co. in 2019. Disney didn’t return a request for comment.
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