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Thursday, June 20, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Broadcasters Say Soccer Bribes Shut Them Out

(CN) - Two broadcasters who televise soccer claim in court that a sports marketing firm and Fox Sports Latin America bribed Conmebol to obtain the exclusive broadcast rights to the international soccer club's tournaments.

In a complaint filed in the federal court in Miami on Oct. 20, GolTV and Global Sports Partners claim that between 2000 and 2015 T&T Sports Marketing paid tens of millions of dollars to corrupt Conmebol directors for the exclusive lucrative rights to televise "Copa Libertadores de America," "the Copa Sudamericana" and the "Recopa."

Conmebol is one of the oldest recognized soccer confederations, and it is "exclusively authorized by FIFA to direct and control football in the region," the complaint says.

Conmebol is comprised of ten national soccer federations from Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela.

T&T Sports Marketing is based in the Cayman Islands and has no known employees or offices. According to the complaint, an entity called Pan American Sports Enterprises is its majority owner, holding a 75-percent interest, while defendant Torneos y Competencias SA owns the other 25 percent of the company.

Defendant Alejandro Burzaco, Jose Margulies and Conmebol directors Luis Bedoya and Sergio Jadue have pled guilty to their involvement with the bribery scheme.

GolTV and Global Sports say that other Fox units and executives, including the current President of Fox Networks Groups Latin America, Carlos Martinez, also participated in the fraud to make sure that T&T Marketing obtained the rights to the tournaments and sublicensed them to Fox Sports Latin America.

"On several occasions, plaintiffs offered Conmebol substantially more for the television rights to air the Club Tournaments than the amounts T&T paid or offered to Conmebol for those rights," the complaint says.

According to the complaint, Conmebol, who has the exclusive right to award the television rights for the club tournaments, frequently rejected GolTV and Global Sports' superior offers even though its directors were obligated to obtain the best and most lucrative terms.

"The Copa Libertadores has been among the most widely watched sporting events in the world. The Copa Libertadores has been telecast in more than 135 countries, and, in 2009 and 2010, drew more than one billion viewers," the complaint says.

GolTV and Global Sports allege that from 1999 till 2015, T&T Marketing acquired the exclusive television rights to the Copa Libertadores, and from 2002 through 2015 the rights to the Copa Sudamericana.

They claim that starting in the year 2000 for approximately 10 years Luis Nofal, one of the founders of the tournaments, paid $1 million in annual bribes to Conmebol president, Nicolas Leoz, and $600,000 to Conmebol directors Eugenio Figueredo, Eduardo Deluca and Romer Osuna.

In return Conmebol granted the Club Tournaments television rights to T&T Marketing, and refused to sell such rights to GolTV.

GolTV says that in 2010 it offered Conmebol $270 million for the television rights to the Copa Libertadores and the Copa Sudamericana for the years 2011-2014.

However, Conmebol rejected GolTV's offer and accepted $164 million from T&T Marketing for the same years.

The complaint claims that in 2002 Fox partnered with T&T Marketing and agreed to bribe Conmebol's directors.

In 2002 Fox Pan American doing business as Fox Sports Latin America acquired 50 percent of T&T Marketing, and in 2005 it acquired an additional 25 percent share.

The complaint says that in 2009 a group of six presidents of "less-powerful" member associations of Conmebol demanded annual bribe payments to support T&T Marketing, and defendant Alejandro Burzaco agreed to pay them six-figure bribes.

"To disguise its bribe payments to Conmebol's directors in connection with the Copa Libertadores and other tournaments, T&T Marketing and Fox agreed that T&T would enter into consulting contracts with various financial intermediaries, such as companies owned by Jose Margulies, Hugo Jinkins and Mariano Jinkins," the complaint says.

The complaint also claims that T&T Marketing used wire facilities and several financial institutions in the United States to make and receive bribe payments and transfers.

GolTV and Global Sports seek compensatory damages on claims of violations of the RICO Act, the Sherman Act and the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act, tortious interference and civil conspiracy.

They are represented by Thomas McCormack from Chadbourne & Parke LLP in New York and Peter Levitt from Shutts & Bowen in Miami, Fla.

Jonathan Bing, a Fox Networks Group spokesperson, called the lawsuit "an entirely meritless claim."

In a statement to Courthouse News, Bing said, "Fox had no operational control over any of the entities named in the FIFA indictment, and no Fox employees were implicated. As for GolTV, it has been attempting without success to challenge the award of rights to Fox that were negotiated after the FIFA indictment, with full transparency to Conmebol. This lawsuit will fail just as GolTV's previous efforts have failed."

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