Two former senior executives at Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox corporation have been indicted over their alleged role in a multimillion dollar bribery scheme involving kickbacks to Fifa officials in exchange for broadcast and marketing rights to some of the world’s biggest football tournaments.
The US Department of Justice announced on Monday that Hernan Lopez, the former chief executive of Fox International Channels and Carlos Martinez, the former president of Fox Latin America, have been charged with wire fraud and money laundering offenses, marking another series of indictments in the US government’s sprawling investigation of corruption in world football.
The indictment alleges that Lopez and Martinez “relied on loyalty secured through the payment of bribes” to South American football officials in order to “advance the business interest of Fox” and obtain “confidential bidding information” to win US broadcast rights to the 2018 and 2022 World Cup.
21st Century Fox did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the indictments. The company was sold by Murdoch to Disney for $71bn in March 2019, years after the alleged bribery scheme is alleged to have occurred.
The pair of former executives are also accused of involvement in the payment of annual bribes to South American football federation [Conmebol] officials to secure broadcast rights to the Copa Libertadores, South America’s biggest club competition.
Over 40 people and entities have been charged as part of the US government’s ongoing investigation of bribery in world football. The probe was dramatically announced at a 2015 dawn raid in Zurich on the eve of a congress of the world football’s governing body, Fifa.
Two Conmebol officials, involved in the alleged scheme with Lopez and Martinez, the former heads of football in Brazil and Paraguay, were found guilty of accepting millions in bribes during a 2017 trial. Prosecutors have secured at least 23 guilty pleas as part of the investigation.
Lopez and Martinez were the subject of a Guardian investigation in 2017, which revealed that the US Justice Department believed the two had provided “agreement and support” for bribes to football officials. The US government’s star witness during the 2017 trial, the former marketing executive Alejandro Burzaco, who has pled guilty to corruption charges, also implicated the pair in the scheme during evidence.
Lopez and Martinez are scheduled for arraignment in federal court in Brooklyn on 9 April and could face up to 20 years in prison.
“The charges unsealed today reflect this office’s ongoing commitment to rooting out corruption at the highest levels of international soccer and at the businesses engaged in promoting and broadcasting the sport,” said Richard P Donoghue, the United States attorney for the eastern district of New York.
On Monday, lawyers for the former Fox executives said both planned to fight the charges in court.
“It’s shocking that the government would bring such a thin case. The indictment contains nothing more than single paragraph about Mr Lopez that alleges nothing remotely improper. Mr Lopez can’t wait to defend himself at trial,” said Matthew Umhofer, representing Lopez.
“We are certain a jury will swiftly exonerate Carlos, as these charges are nothing more than stale fiction,” said Steven McCool, representing Martinez.
The new indictments also laid out charges against the former CEO of Spanish media company Imagina, Gerard Romy and Uruguayan media company Full Play Group. They also include allegations against four unnamed co-conspirators who occupied various levels of seniority at Fifa and South American football administrations.