Two former executives from a subsidiary of US multimedia giant 21st Century Fox will sit in the dock in a New York court room on Tuesday as a new trial from the so-called ‘FIFAgate’ scandal gets underway.
The duo, Mexican-American Carlos Martínez and Argentine-American Hernán López, face charges of corruption, banking fraud and money-laundering from the explosive FIFA bribery investigation that erupted in 2015. They were previously in charge of 21st Century Fox’s business in Latin America.
López’s alleged wrongdoing also relates to activities involving the Full Play Group, a Buenos Aires-based sports marketing firm owned by Argentine brothers Hugo and Mariano Jinkis, who are both fugitives from justice. The local firm is also a defendant in the case and faces the same allegations.
The US court alleges that between 2005 and 2015, "the defendants agreed to pay, paid and facilitated the payment and concealment of annual bribes and kickbacks" to officials of the South American Football Confederation (CONMEBOL), in exchange for lucrative broadcast rights for Copa Libertadores matches, international friendlies and other football events, and insider information to secure US broadcast rights to matches at the 2018 and 2022 World Cup.
Full Play Group has also been charged with participating in a bribery scheme to secure the rights to World Cup qualifying matches. Also charged in the same case is the Spaniard Gerard Romy, the former president of sports company Imagina.
On 9 April 2020, in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, López and Martínez pleaded not guilty and agreed to post bail of US$15 million each to remain free until trial. Jury selection has already begun, the Brooklyn court said, and opening arguments could begin as early as Tuesday before trial judge Pamela Chen.
The case is part of the so-called 'FIFAgate' corruption scandal that rocked world football's governing body in 2015, costing then-FIFA president Sepp Blatter his job.
A number of Argentines – including the late historic head of the Argentine Football Association (AFA) Julio Grondona and the ex-CEO of local sports marketing firm TyC Alejandro Burzaco – were involved in the scandal. The latter has reportedly turned whistleblower.
According to the FBI, the defendants in this new trial "corrupted the governance and business of international football for many years with bribes and kickbacks, and engaged in fraudulent criminal schemes that caused significant harm to the sport of football.”
The US intelligence services said they employed tactics including “the use of shell companies, bogus consulting contracts and other methods of concealment to disguise bribes and kickback payments and make them appear legitimate."
The charges carry maximum prison sentences of 20 years for each offence.
Romy is also charged with criminal conspiracy for allegedly paying a US$3-million kickback to former CONCACAF chief Jeffrey Webb in exchange for broadcast rights to qualifying matches for the 2018 (Russia) and 2022 (Qatar) World Cups, according to prosecutors.
The ‘FIFAgate’ investigation has, to date, resulted in the charging of some 45 individuals and several sports companies with more than 90 crimes and with paying or accepting more than US$200 million in bribes.
Of these, 27 have pleaded guilty – four of them have died; other defendants who pleaded guilty have been sentenced, and others who pleaded guilty are still awaiting sentencing. Two others were convicted at trial and sentenced to different penalties.
In addition, four companies pleaded guilty, two others reached deferred prosecution agreements and two others paid fines.
The awarding of the 2018 (Russia) and 2022 (Qatar) World Cup venues was marred by corruption, according to the US Judiciary.