A former executive with 21st Century Fox and an Argentine sports marketing firm were found guilty in New York on Thursday of paying bribes to secure lucrative television rights to international football officials.
The US Justice Department said in a statement that former Fox executive Hernan Lopez, 52, and Argentine firm Full Play were found guilty on all counts of involvement in schemes to bribe officials at FIFA, CONMEBOL and CONCACAF.
Lopez’s co-defendant, Carlos Martinez, was acquitted following the seven-week trial in federal court in Brooklyn.
Lopez faces up to 40 years in prison and millions of dollars in penalties.
The Buenos Aires-based company Full Play — whose owners Hugo and Mariano Jinkis remain fugitives — is expected to face millions of dollars in fines.
“Today’s verdict is a resounding victory for justice and for soccer fans around the world,” US attorney Breon Peace said.
“The defendants cheated by bribing soccer officials to act in their own greedy interests rather than in the best interests of the sport,” Peace added.
During the trial, the court heard how officials from South American football’s governing body CONMEBOL were paid more than $32 million in bribes as part of the corruption scandal that plunged FIFA into crisis in 2015.
Argentine businessman Alejandro Burzaco — who testified for the prosecution after pleading guilty to involvement in the scandal — told the court that he, Lopez and Martinez had funnelled kickbacks to CONMEBOL chiefs to secure broadcasting rights.
The corruption scandal uncovered by US authorities ultimately led to the downfall of former FIFA President Sepp Blatter.
So far charges have been brought against more than 50 defendants from 20 countries, resulting in guilty pleas by more than 30 individual and corporate defendants.
Burzaco said during the trial that the defendants had paid out between “$30-32 million” in bribes to secure broadcasting rights to South American football competitions such as the Copa Libertadores, as well as friendlies and qualifying matches.
The court heard that the main beneficiaries of the kickback scheme were six of the most powerful men in South American football.
They included former CONMEBOL president Nicolas Leoz, who died in 2019, former Argentine football executive Julio Grondona, who died in 2014, and former Brazilian football chief Ricardo Teixeira.
Leoz, Grondona and Teixeira were also members of the FIFA executive committee in 2010 that controversially awarded the 2018 World Cup to Russia and the 2022 finals to Qatar in a vote tainted by corruption.
Other South American officials who received bribes were CONMEBOL vice president Eugenio Figueredo, secretary general Eduardo Deluca, and treasurer Romer Osuna, according to Burzaco.
Burzaco’s plea deal included an agreement with the US court that included paying a fine of at least $21.6 million.