NEW YORK (AP) — For seven weeks in US court, federal juries heard a corruption scandal that had reached the highest echelons of international soccer.
They must now decide the fate of two former Fox executives accused of paying tens of millions of dollars in bribes to secure the rights to broadcast major soccer events, including the World Cup.
From the outset, New York prosecutors stressed that the case shows nothing less than “the corruption of international football” and the way in which two former executives, Argentine Hernán López and Mexican Carlos Martínez, in took advantage.
“This trial has given them unique, insider insight into a series of criminal conspiracies which involved corruption at the highest levels of organized football and in the realm of the television broadcast of the match,” the official said. Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Silverberg to the jurors. , during the government shutdown arguments.
The judge is expected to drop the case to the jury on Monday, to begin deliberating on the testimony of a large group of witnesses who entered the witness box. Many of them have been summoned by defense lawyers seeking to refute what the government’s main witness, a former business partner of the two television executives, said.
The fate of the two defendants will largely depend on the credibility of this witness, the Argentinian Alejandro Burzaco, who has cooperated in previous investigations into corruption in football since 2015, when he was arrested in a corruption case. related.
Defense attorneys have suggested that Burzaco only implicated López and Martínez to avoid jail time.
William David Sarratt, who represents López, said Burzaco had “a credibility problem”.
“This case builds and falls on Burzaco,” said Steven McCool, who represents Martinez. “You cannot convict another human being based on what a liar says.”
During 11 days of testimony, Burzaco described a sport corrupted by millions of dollars in shell company money in the hands of South American sports executives.
The clandestine deals helped set up television rights deals for the Copa Libertadores and ultimately resulted in Fox securing the World Cup rights.
Burzaco, who ran an Argentine marketing company, has previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy, conspiracy and other charges. He testified in 2017 that the three South American members of FIFA’s executive board had accepted millions of dollars in bribes to support Qatar’s bid to host the 2022 World Cup.
There is no conviction yet for Burzaco, who critics point out was a prosecution witness, so his sentence is lenient.
Whatever the outcome, the case revealed FIFA’s ongoing struggles to repair its damaged image, even as most fans would have left behind a scandal that erupted in 2015 when seven officials were arrested in a hotel in Zurich, Switzerland.
Months later, in the same hotel, two FIFA vice-presidents were arrested on suspicion of corruption.
Complications in international football quickly escalated.
At least 24 people have already pleaded guilty. In addition, two people were found guilty in connection with a corruption investigation led by the United States.
Four corporations also pleaded guilty and four other companies were charged but agreed with the government to avoid prosecution.
Another company, Full Play, dedicated to sports marketing and based in Uruguay, is judged with López y Martínez. The government accuses the company of participating in the corruption scheme.
López was the general manager of Fox’s International Channels, then he ran a podcast business.
Martínez ran the Latin American subsidiary of the media giant.
Until 2019, the international channels were a subsidiary of what was then known as 21st Century Fox, which was later spun off in a sale to Disney.
Fox secured the rights to broadcast the 2018 and 2022 World Cups when it was part of the now-defunct company.
From 1994 to 2014, rival ESPN broadcast the coveted tournament.
New York-based Fox Corp. is not a defendant in the case. He denied any role in the corruption scandal, saying he was cooperating fully with the authorities.
ESPN began broadcasting the biggest event in world football before it took off with American audiences. Previously, FIFA had to buy airtime to broadcast the tournament in the country.
As American interest in football grew, competition to broadcast games intensified.
ESPN paid $100 million for broadcast rights in 2010 and 2014. ESPN sought to continue broadcasting the World Cup, but after two rounds of bidding failed to secure the rights.
Prosecutors allege the bribes allowed López and Martínez to receive confidential information from senior football officials, including FIFA officials. The information helped Fox secure the rights to broadcast the contest in English, with a bid of $425 million.
Telemundo, a division of Comcast Corp.’s NBCUniversal, won the Spanish-language rights for about $600 million.
Last December’s World Cup final, in which Argentina beat France, was the most-watched soccer game in the United States, according to TV viewership estimates.
During its deliberations, the jury will have to take into account a vast amount of emails, financial records and contracts, as well as hours of testimony from Burzaco, media executives, football officials and partners. of Lopez and Martinez.
At trial, there was little doubt that dirty money had been exchanged. But defense attorneys, who admitted the bribes, named Burzaco as the culprit.
“Mr. Burzaco has not been tried,” Kaitlin T. Farrell, another federal prosecutor, reminded the jury.