Fox Sports paid bribes to soccer officials to retain broadcast rights, a former sports marketing executive testified in Brooklyn federal court Tuesday.
Alejandro Burzaco said Fox Sports partnered with his firm to pay off officials at the South American Football Confederation, one of FIFA’s six continental sub-groups. Five Spanish-language broadcasters also bribed FIFA officials, Burzaco testified.
Fox Sports used sham contracts to cover up some of the payments, Burzaco alleged, pointing to a 2008 contract for $3.7 million between an ex-Fox Sports official and a company called Somerton Ltd. It was ostensibly payment for Somerton’s work in extending Fox’s broadcast rights for major South American tournaments.
“T&T is interested in appointing Somerton to negotiate the extension of the television rights currently granted to T&T for Copa Libertadores, Copa Sudamericana and Recopa Sudamericana,” the contract reads.
It’s not a real contract and no such work took place, Burzaco testified.
A Fox Sports official signed the contract on behalf of T&T. Somerton, a Turks and Caicos company, was owned by Jose Margulies, who served as an intermediary for bribes to FIFA officials and pleaded guilty in 2015.
Burzaco said Fox hoped to use the tournaments to expand its reach in “all of the Americas from Argentina to the U.S.A.”
“Any suggestion that Fox Sports knew of or approved of any bribes is emphatically false,” Fox Sports said in a statement. “Fox Sports had no operational control of the entity which Burzaco ran. The entity run by Burzaco was a subsidiary of Fox Pan American Sports, which in 2008, at the time of the contract in question, was majority owned by a private equity firm and under their operational and management control.”
Fox Sports also won the rights for broadcasting the FIFA World Cup through 2026 in February 2015. Sports Illustrated called it a “stunning, unexpected move,” in which FIFA did not review offers from former contract holder ESPN.
(Fox Sports Latin America is also being sued in a related case in Florida federal court, where GolTV alleges that it missed out on television rights to tournaments because Fox bribed FIFA officials for the rights.)
On trial in Brooklyn is Ángel Napout, a former president of the South American Football Confederation, known as CONMEBOL, José María Marín, who headed the football federation in Brazil, and Manuel Burga, an ex-president of Peru’s football federation.
Prosecutors say they’re part of a scheme that took more that $150 million in bribes for broadcasting rights. Dozens of other FIFA officials have also been charged by American authorities in the alleged web of corruption, and many have pleaded guilty.
The trial is happening in the United States because officials say the men used the U.S. banking system for their alleged misdeeds.
“These defendants cheated the sport in order to line their own pockets,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Keith Edelman told the jury as the trial began. “And they did it year after year, tournament after tournament, bribe after bribe.”