April 7, 2020 / 2:31 AM / 3 months ago

Former Fox executives indicted in U.S. FIFA corruption probe

NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. prosecutors on Monday accused two former 21st Century Fox Inc executives of paying millions of dollars in bribes to secure lucrative media and marketing rights to soccer matches, the latest charges in a long-running investigation of corruption surrounding FIFA, soccer’s world governing body.

FILE PHOTO: The logo of FIFA is seen in front of its headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland September 26, 2017. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann/File Photo

The former Fox executives, Hernan Lopez and Carlos Martinez, were indicted in Brooklyn federal court on wire fraud and money laundering charges along with Gerard Romy, former co-chief executive of Spanish media company Imagina Media Audiovisual SL, and Full Play Group SA, an Uruguayan sports marketing company.

“It’s shocking that the government would bring such a thin case,” said Matthew Umhofer, a lawyer for Lopez.

Steven McCool, a lawyer for Martinez, said the charges against his client were “nothing more than stale fiction.”

“Our client looks forward to vigorously defending itself against all of the charges at trial,” said Carlos Ortiz, a lawyer for Full Play.

A lawyer for Romy declined to comment.

The U.S. investigation into corruption in the world of soccer became public in 2015 with the announcement of criminal charges against a slew of officials and others.

Prosecutors said for the first time in Monday’s indictment that FIFA officials took bribes in connection with choosing Qatar and Russia to host the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, respectively. Those allegations do not involve any of the newly charged defendants.

According to the indictment, Lopez, 49, served as chief executive officer of a Latin American Fox subsidiary, while Martinez, 51, served as its president. They worked with Full Play to bribe officials at CONMEBOL, the South American soccer federation, in exchange for rights to events including the Copa Libertadores club tournament, prosecutors said.

Romy, 65, took part in a scheme to bribe officials of the Caribbean Football Union and Central American Football Union to secure rights to World Cup qualifying matches, prosecutors said.

The alleged conduct occurred before Walt Disney Co acquired most of 21st Century Fox Inc in 2019.

More than 40 people and entities have been charged in the case since 2015 and 26 people have pleaded guilty.

Former CONMEBOL head Juan Angel Napout, of Paraguay, and former Brazilian soccer chief Jose Maria Marin were convicted after a trial in 2017 and sentenced to prison.

Marin, 87, was granted early release last month because of the health risk posed to elderly inmates by the coronavirus pandemic. Napout, 61, is also seeking early release.

Reporting By Brendan Pierson in New York; Editing by David Gregorio, Will Dunham and Tom Brown

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