New FIFA Indictment Ensnares Ex-Fox Executives

BROOKLYN, N.Y. (CN) — Two former Fox executives are charged with bribing soccer officials, as U.S. prosecutors fine-tuned charging papers Monday in the sprawling FIFA corruption scandal.

Filed this afternoon in New York’s Eastern District, the 53-count superseding indictment levels charges at 17 defendants including Hernan Lopez, 49, of California, and Carlos Martinez, 51, of Florida, both of whom worked in Latin America for Twenty-First Century Fox.

Carlos Cordeiro, the president of the U.S. Soccer Federation, speaks at the 2018 FIFA congress in Moscow, Russia. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

Gerard Romy, former co-CEO of Spanish media company Imagina Media Audiovisual SL, is charged as well, as is Full Play Group S.A., a Uruguayan sports marketing company. All the defendants face charges related to wire fraud and money laundering, while Romy and Full Play are additionally charged with racketeering conspiracy. Each charge carries a maximum of 20 years in prison.

Prosecutors say the broadcast execs paid millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks every year to officials of the South American Football Confederation, known as Conmebol, in exchange for lucrative rights to air South American club soccer’s biggest competition, the Copa Libertadores. 

The loyalty Lopez and Martinez gained through those bribes also allegedly brought other valuable information, such as confidential details on bidding for U.S. broadcast rights to the 2018 and 2022 World Cup tournaments. 

Matthew Umhofer, an attorney for Lopez with the firm Spertus Landes & Umhofer, swatted the allegations

“It’s shocking that the government would bring such a thin case,” Umhofer said in an email Monday. “The indictment contains nothing more than single paragraph about Mr. Lopez that alleges nothing remotely improper. Mr. Lopez can’t wait to defend himself at trial.” 

Martinez’s attorney, Steven McCool, was similarly confident.

“We are certain a jury will swiftly exonerate Carlos, as the charges against him are nothing more than stale fiction,” McCool said in an email Monday.

Prosecutors say Romy paid out bribes in the Caribbean Football Union and within the Central American Football Union, while Full Play paid out bribes for tournament media and marketing rights. Its owners, father and son Hugo and Mariano Jinkis, were first charged in 2015 and remain fugitives, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said. 

The charges come nearly two and a half years after the conclusion of the Brooklyn corruption trial of three former FIFA executives: Jose Maria Marin of Brazil, Manuel Burga of Peru and Juan Angel Napout, of Paraguay. Marin and Napout were convicted, while the jury acquitted Burga. Marin, 87, received compassionate release from prison last month due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

An additional twenty-six people and four corporate entities charged already in the corruption case have pleaded guilty, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York. 

“The profiteering and bribery in international soccer have been deep-seated and commonly known practices for decades,” William F. Sweeney, assistant director-in-charge of the FBI’s New York field office, said in a statement. “These men, along with the general public, have known the FBI New York and our many law enforcement partners are investigating the illicit handshakes and backroom deals hidden in the infrastructure of soccer events, venues and marketing contracts. The first public charges date back to 2015. This should illustrate to everyone still hoping to score millions corruptly, we’re going to find you.”

Full Play’s attorney, Carlos Ortiz of Norton Rose Fulbright, said the organization would plead not guilty and “looks forward to vigorously defending itself against all of the charges at trial.”

Sullivan and Cromwell attorney Robert Giuffra declined to comment on behalf of Romy.

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