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FIFA Corruption: Bribery Scandal Trial in Latin American Soccer

Two former executives of the US company Fox and the Argentine agency Full Play presented their pleas on Tuesday before the New York justice that accuses them of corruption, bank fraud and money laundering, in the framework of the FIFA bribery mega-scandal that broke out in 2015.

Mexican Carlos Martínez and Argentine Hernán López -both with US nationality-, who worked at 21st Century Fox, accused Argentine Alejandro Burzaco, former owner of the company Torneos y Competencias (TyC), of being behind the bribes and of “falsely accusing” them by pleading guilty in the United States to reduce his sentence for the same case.

Burzaco, who paid at least $21.6 million in fines after being accused of paying millionaire bribes to secure his company TyC the Copa America broadcasting rights, will be a witness in the trial taking place in the Federal District Court for the Eastern District of Brooklyn, as advanced Tuesday on the first day of hearing.

“Burzaco is not the type of person who lets the truth get in his way,” said the defense attorney for Hernan Lopez, who recounted his flight from Zurich when the FIFA scandal broke in May 2015 to hide in Italy where he eventually turned himself in to police. “He is an avowed criminal” who admitted paying tens of millions of dollars in bribes, it added.

The indictment alleges that the three defendants in the dock participated in a scheme to pay bribes to Latin American soccer officials, particularly Conmebol, to secure lucrative broadcast rights to Copa Libertadores and Copa America matches, as well as World Cup qualifiers and friendlies.

“This system of bribes lasted for years through generation of leaders, because money corrupts and money is good,” said prosecutor Victor Zapana in opening arguments.

They dedicated “millions of dollars in bribes,” which circulated through “the banks of the world.” “Everybody won, except the sport of soccer,” Zapana assured.

Full Play’s defense blamed executives of South American soccer federations, who “systematically demanded payments.”

The trial is expected to last about a month and a half.

Millionaire Bribes

The scandal known as “FIFAgate”, uncovered by the United States in May 2015, exposed a scheme of million-dollar bribes paid by sports marketing companies to Latin American soccer leaders in exchange for television broadcasting rights and tournament promotion.

U.S. prosecutors have charged 45 individuals and several sports companies with more than 90 felonies and with paying or accepting more than $200 million in bribes.

Of those, 27 pleaded guilty – four have died – and half a dozen have been sentenced.

Three others pleaded not guilty and went to a historic trial in New York in late 2017: former Brazilian soccer chief José Marin and former Paraguayan soccer and Conmebol president Juan Ángel Napout were found guilty and jailed, while former Peruvian soccer chief Manuel Burga was acquitted.

Last September, the former president of the Salvadoran Football Federation Reynaldo Vásquez was sentenced to 16 months in prison for accepting tens of thousands of dollars in bribes in exchange for television rights for the Salvadoran national team.

According to the Brooklyn court, Vasquez, along with other Salvadoran soccer officials, received $350,000 from a U.S. company for the sale of broadcasting rights to the national team’s qualifying and friendly matches for the Russia-2018 World Cup. 

A dozen leaders are still in their countries, where they were prosecuted by the local justice system or are at liberty trying to avoid extradition to the United States.

In addition, four companies pleaded guilty, two others reached deferred prosecution agreements and two others paid fines.

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