Fox won World Cup media rights with secret, inside information, federal witness says

Fox Sports used secret inside information in 2011 to secure television rights to the World Cup in the United States, according to Federal Court testimony shared with The New York Times.

Justice Department witness Alejandro Burzaco, a former banker and sports marketing executive, admitted to working as an intermediary between FIFA and Fox, the latter of which successfully outbid ESPN and NBC during what was supposed to be a blind auction. . Since then, Fox has broadcast the 2018 World Cup from Russia and the 2022 World Cup from Qatar. Similarly, the Rupert Murdoch-owned family of networks will broadcast the 2026 World Cup from North America.

As the Times reported, Burzaco testified Friday that he was a go-between for then-Fox International executive Hernán López and FIFA senior Julio Grondona.

“He said: ‘If Fox puts up $400 million, then he will win,'” Burzaco said in Federal Court, referring to Grondona.

Assistant US Attorney Megan Farrell at podium, far-right cross-examines government witness Alejandro Burzaco, on the witness stand, Wednesday

Assistant US Attorney Megan Farrell at podium, far-right cross-examines government witness Alejandro Burzaco, on the witness stand, Wednesday

Fox ultimately won the supposedly blind auction with a bid of $400 million.

Burzaco testified earlier Wednesday that López and Carlos Martínez, another Fox executive, conspired to bribe South American soccer officials for the television rights to the southern hemisphere’s biggest annual tournament, the Copa Libertadores, and helped secure broadcast rights. of the most lucrative competition in sport, the World Cup.

“The bribes served that purpose very well,” Burzaco testified.

Lawyers for López and Martínez have claimed that the former executives are being framed, with a defense attorney accusing Burzaco of planning the bribes.

During his first day on the witness stand Wednesday, Burazco told the court about the phony contracts that were made with soccer officials to funnel bribes.

He said the payments Lopez and Martinez are accused of making to South American Soccer Confederation officials helped Fox weed out competitors and secured below-market tournament rights.

Alejandro Burzaco (C) leaves the United States District Court in Brooklyn on September 18, 2015 in New York.  Burzaco would appear before a judge to respond to charges of bribery and corruption linked to the great FIFA scandal

Alejandro Burzaco (C) leaves the United States District Court in Brooklyn on September 18, 2015 in New York.  Burzaco would appear before a judge to respond to charges of bribery and corruption linked to the great FIFA scandal

Alejandro Burzaco (C) leaves the United States District Court in Brooklyn on September 18, 2015 in New York. Burzaco would appear before a judge to respond to charges of bribery and corruption linked to the great FIFA scandal

Lopez, a native of Argentina, is the former CEO of Fox International Channels and later operated a podcasting company. Martínez, a native of Mexico, headed the station’s Latin American affiliate.

Another sports media and marketing company, Full Play Group SA, is on trial with López and Martínez, but the bribery allegations against that company involve different television rights. Full Play, incorporated in Uruguay, is accused of paying bribes for the rights to the Copa América, a quadrennial national competition, as well as World Cup qualifying matches.

= New York-based Fox Corp., which spun off a subsidiary of international channels during a 2019 restructuring, has denied any involvement in the bribery scandal and is not a defendant in the case.

The company said in a statement that it has fully cooperated with and respects the judicial process, noting that the international channels were part of what was then known as 21st Century Fox before the corporate reorganization.

“This case involves a legacy business that has no connection to the new FOX Corporation,” the statement said.

As the Times reported, Burzaco testified Friday that he was a go-between for then-Fox International executive Hernán López and FIFA senior Julio Grondona (pictured).

As the Times reported, Burzaco testified Friday that he was a go-between for then-Fox International executive Hernán López and FIFA senior Julio Grondona (pictured).

As the Times reported, Burzaco testified Friday that he was a go-between for then-Fox International executive Hernán López and FIFA senior Julio Grondona (pictured).

So far, more than two dozen people have pleaded guilty and two people have been convicted at trial 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 charged but reached agreements with the government to avoid prosecution.

The world’s soccer governing body, FIFA, has said it was not involved in any fraud or conspiracy and was a mere bystander as the scandal unfolded.

However, the scandal brought the organization under worldwide scrutiny. Since then, he has tried to polish up his tarnished image.

Last month’s World Cup final in Qatar, where Argentina prevailed over France in a dramatic title match, was the most-watched soccer game in the United States, according to television audience estimates.

Former Fox executive Hernán López (C) arrives at court in the Brooklyn borough of New York

Former Fox executive Hernán López (C) arrives at court in the Brooklyn borough of New York

Former Fox executive Hernán López (C) arrives at court in the Brooklyn borough of New York

During opening arguments Tuesday, Assistant US Attorney Victor Zapana told jurors that millions of dollars in bribes fueled a system of clandestine no-bid contracts that “allowed disloyal soccer executives to live a life of luxury.”

Prosecutors allege that the bribes allowed López and Martínez to allow Fox to obtain confidential information from high-ranking soccer officials, including those at FIFA, which enabled their $425 million offer to beat out rival ESPN and secure the rights to US broadcast for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. Cups.

Burzaco is a former business partner of the two men and ran an Argentine marketing company. He has cooperated in previous soccer corruption cases after his own arrest for bribery in 2015 in an attempt, his critics say, to avoid prison.

Burzaco pleaded guilty to extortion conspiracy and other charges. He testified in 2017 that the three South Americans on FIFA’s executive committee accepted million-dollar bribes to support Qatar’s bid for the recently completed 2022 World Cup.

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