The US prosecutors accused two former executives of 21st Century Fox Inc for paying millions of bribes to FIFA in exchange for lucrative rights to football matches.

The logo of FIFA is seen in front of its headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland September 26, 2017.
The logo of FIFA is seen in front of its headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland September 26, 2017. (Reuters)

The US prosecutors on Monday accused two former 21st Century Fox Inc executives of paying millions of dollars in bribes to secure lucrative rights to football matches, the latest charges in a long-running investigation of corruption surrounding FIFA, football's world governing body.

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.

Prosecutors said the defendants bribed football officials to secure media and marketing rights to football tournaments using shell companies, sham consulting contracts and other methods to conceal the scheme.

"It's shocking that the government would bring such a thin case," said Matthew Umhofer, a lawyer for Lopez. "Mr. Lopez can't wait to defend himself at trial."

"We are certain a jury will swiftly exonerate Carlos, as these charges are nothing more than stale fiction," said Steven McCool, a lawyer for Martinez.

Lawyers for Romy and Full Play could not immediately be reached for comment.

The US investigation into corruption in the world of football became public in 2015 with the announcement of criminal charges against a slew of officials and others. More than 40 individuals and entities have been charged, and at least 26 people have pleaded guilty.

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 channel millions of dollars to officials at CONMEBOL, the South American football federation, in exchange for rights to events including the Copa Libertadores, the region's most popular 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 illegal conduct occurred before the Walt Disney Co. acquired most of 21st Century Fox Inc in 2019.

Former CONMEBOL head Juan Angel Napout of Paraguay and former Brazilian football 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 or otherwise vulnerable prison inmates by the coronavirus pandemic. Napout, 61, remains in prison and is seeking early release.

Source: Reuters