NEW YORK (AP) — The U.S. government’s star witness in a corruption trial over broadcast rights to some of soccer’s biggest events testified Wednesday that he and two former Fox executives paid millions of dollars in bribes to undermine competing bids.
The trial in New York City is the latest development in a nearly decade-old corruption scandal that has ensnared more than three dozen executives and associates of the world’s most popular sport.
The witness, Alejandro Burzaco, alleged that he and former Fox executives Hernán López and Carlos Martinez conspired to bribe South American soccer officials for the TV rights to the Copa Libertadores, the southern hemisphere’s biggest annual tournament, and to help the sport’s biggest broadcast rights. A fascinating tournament, the World Cup.
“Ghus served that purpose very well,” Burzako testified.
Lawyers for Lopez and Martinez have insisted that the former executives were framed, with a defense attorney accusing Burzaco of masterminding the bribes.
During his first day on the witness stand on Wednesday, Burajko told the court about fake deals he set up with football officials to funnel bribes.
He said Lopez and Martinez allegedly paid off South American soccer confederation officials to help Fox squeeze competitors and secure rights to tournaments at below-market costs.
A native of Argentina, Lopez is the former chief executive of Fox International Channel and later ran a podcasting venture. Martinez, a native of Mexico, headed the broadcaster’s Latin America affiliate.
Another sports media and marketing company, Full Play Group SA, is on trial with Lopez and Martinez, but bribery charges against that company involve various TV rights. Full Play, involved in Uruguay, has been accused of paying bribes for rights to the Copa America, a quadrennial national team tournament, as well as World Cup qualifiers.
Prosecutors are expected to question Burzacco until at least Friday, after which it will be the turn of defense attorneys.
New York-based Fox Corp., which was spun off as a subsidiary of International Channels during a restructuring in 2019, has denied any involvement in the bribery scandal and is not a defendant in the case.
The company said in a statement that it fully cooperated and respected the judicial process, noting that the international channels were part of what was known as 21st Century Fox before the corporate shakeup.
“This case involves a legacy business that is unrelated to the new FOX Corporation,” the statement said.
So far, more than two dozen people have pleaded guilty and two have been indicted in connection with a US-led investigation into tens of millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks at the highest levels of soccer. Four corporate entities have also pleaded guilty. Four other companies were indicted but struck deals with the government to avoid prosecution.
World football’s governing body, fifa, It said it was not involved in any fraud or conspiracy and was only a bystander when the scam was exposed.
Still, the scandal pushed the organization under global scrutiny. with this Since trying to polish Its tarnished image.
Where the World Cup final in Qatar last month Argentina defeated France In a dramatic title-clinching shootout, it was the most-watched soccer game in the United States, according to television viewership estimates.
During opening arguments Tuesday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Victor Japana told jurors that millions of dollars in bribes fed a secret, no-bid system that “allowed trusted football officials to live a life of luxury.”
Prosecutors allege that the payments enabled Lopez and Martinez to allow Fox to obtain confidential information from high-level soccer officials, including those at FIFA, which allowed a $425 million bid to beat rival ESPN and secure U.S. broadcast rights for the 2018 and 2022 World Cup. Cups.
Burjako is a former business partner of the two men and heads a marketing firm in Argentina. He has cooperated in previous football corruption cases after his own bribery arrest in 2015, his critics argue, to avoid prison.
Burzako pleaded guilty to conspiracy and other charges. He testified in 2017 that all three South Americans on the FIFA executive committee took millions of dollars in bribes to support Qatar’s bid for the recently concluded 2022 World Cup.