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FIFA corruption trial is a wrap for former Fox execs

Defense attorneys say a witness whose testimony dominated the seven-week trial can't be trusted to prove that their clients joined a bribery cabal in world soccer.

BROOKLYN (CN) — With closing arguments coming to an end on Friday afternoon, jurors will soon determine the fate of two Fox executives accused of bribing soccer officials with tens of millions of dollars to get competitive broadcasting rights, part of the sweeping FIFA investigation that cracked open a bribery scheme, led to some two dozen public guilty pleas and took down the organization’s president

Hernan Lopez, former CEO of Fox International Channels, and Carlos Martinez, who was president of Latin America for the Twenty-First Century Fox subsidiary, sat for the seven-week trial, each accused of wire fraud and money laundering conspiracy. 

But it was a third figure in the soccer world, and the government’s case, who dominated the courtroom during closings. 

Alejandro Burzaco was a principal for Torneos y Competencias SA, an Argentinian sports media and marketing business. During his 11 days of testimony, Burzaco described plotting with both defendants to bribe officials of the South American Football Confederation — one of FIFA’s six continental confederations, known as Conmebol — in exchange for lucrative rights to air South American club soccer’s biggest competition, the Copa Libertadores. 

Attorneys for Lopez and Martinez both argued the real crook in the matter was Burzaco, who has not been sentenced after pleading guilty to racketeering conspiracy, wire fraud conspiracy and money laundering conspiracy. 

“The evidence you would rightly expect to see in a bribery case is here. It’s just that none of it — none of it — points to Hernan Lopez,” said Lopez’s attorney David Sarratt, a partner at the firm Debevoise & Plimpton. 

Sarratt characterized Burzaco as an egotistical swindler who provided “lush details” when he wanted to make a point, mixing in fake but “unverifiable” details that served him. 

Forget basing a criminal conviction upon his testimony, Sarratt said: “I don’t think you could trust Burzaco to water your plants while you’re out of town."

Martinez’s attorney, too, condemned Burzaco throughout his closing argument. 

“Reasonable doubt fell out of that man’s mouth over and over again for 11 days,” said attorney Steve McCool. “Those cooperation agreements aren’t magic wands. They don’t turn liars into truth-tellers.” 

Prosecutors argued that, while Burzaco was the “narrator” of the case, jurors could look to documents that backed up his story. Among those was a contract signed by Martinez in 2012 that they said served to clean up signs of bribery, moving payments off the books. 

The contract raised questions for Marcela Martin, who worked under Lopez and is now president of BuzzFeed, according to emails and court testimony. 

“She told you that she had a problem with this agreement. It was weird. Something wasn’t right,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Kaitlin Farrell said during her rebuttal argument Friday.  

Government attorneys also reminded jurors that Burzaco, part of the first wave of arrests in the case in May 2015, was not on trial. 

“Guess what? Those crimes were solved eight years ago,” Farrell said. “There was a huge takedown in Switzerland.”

Burzaco was also a witness at the previous Brooklyn trial linked to the investigation, which took place in 2017 in the same federal courthouse. Jurors there acquitted Peruvian former soccer official Manual Burga after convicting his two co-defendants

The third defendant in the case now at hand, Uruguay-based sports media and marketing company Full Play, faces the same wire fraud conspiracy and money laundering charges plus additional counts related to other tournaments. 

The company, according to court testimony, kept secret bribery ledgers on a thumb drive in a locked safe, which coded Conmebol officials’ names with car names like “Benz,” “Fiat” and “VW.” 

Full Play attorneys said the company's clients didn’t set out to commit crimes and had not received a code of ethics from Conmebol. 

Jurors are expected to get the case on Monday, following instructions by U.S. District Judge Pamela Chen.

Categories:Business, Criminal, Entertainment, International, Sports, Trials

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