Fox and implicated executives deny latest soccer bribery claims
21st Century Fox, the international media giant, has again denied any wrongdoing after three current and former senior executives of the company were implicated in the alleged payment of bribes to South American soccer officials.
The claims are made in US prosecution documents that form part of the wide-ranging 'Fifa-gate' investigation into corruption in international soccer, according to the UK’s Guardian newspaper.
Fox, Carlos Martinez, the chief executive of Fox Networks Group Latin America, Hernan Lopez, the former chief executive of Fox International Channels, and James Ganley, the former chief operating officer at Fox Pan American Sports, have all been accused of involvement in bribery in a civil case brought against Fox and other entities in Florida by US broadcaster GolTV, the newspaper claims, citing a previously unreported court filing.
GolTV alleges that it missed out on the media rights to competitions such as the Copa Libertadores and Copa Sudamericana, which involve top South American clubs, as a result of bribes paid by Fox Sports executives.
The case is continuing in parallel to the trial of three former South American soccer officials in New York emanating from the US probe into schemes in which $200 million in bribes and kickbacks concerning media and marketing rights to soccer across the Americas were alleged to have been paid to officials with links to Fifa.
US prosecutors sought a stay of proceedings in the GolTV lawsuit, but this was rejected by a judge, meaning that Torneos y Competencias, the Argentinian sports agency that is also being sued, testified under deposition that Martinez, Lopez and Ganley were involved in the bribery scheme, it is reported.
Bribes for the Copa Libertadores were paid, at times, “with the agreement and support” of these executives, according to the agreed facts with the US Department of Justice.
In a statement, Fox Sports told the Guardian that it “did not participate in any wrongdoing” and is “vigorously defending” the complaint against it.
Last month, Fox Sports denied similar allegations made in the New York trial by former Torneos chief executive Alejandro Burzaco by saying that any suggestion that it “knew of or approved of any bribes is emphatically false.”
Torneos and Burzaco have admitted wrongdoing in the Fifa-gate scandal, which broke in 2015, and have been co-operating with prosecutors in return for reduced punishments. Fox, for its part, has not been directly charged.
Lawyers for Lopez, who left FIC in January 2016, said: “Mr Lopez built his entire career on a foundation of respect and integrity, and he never authorised or was aware of any improper payments on his watch.”
Lawyers for Ganley said: “Mr Ganley has a well-earned reputation as a highly accomplished and ethical business executive. He has never been involved in any wrongdoing, and has never been accused of wrongdoing. Any contention to the contrary is flatly false.”
There has yet to be a response from Martinez or his representatives.
In his testimony last month, Burzaco claimed that T&T Sports Marketing, a Cayman Islands shell company part-owned by himself and Fox Pan American Sports, had signed a fake contract with a Turks and Caicos-based company called Somerton at the start of 2008 to pay bribes of $3.7 million to extend a rights contract for the Copa Libertadores and Copa Sudamericana.
At the time, a contract signed by Ganley was presented to the jury by prosecutors.
Burzaco alleged that T&T regularly paid bribes for the rights to the two competitions, and that Martinez and Lopez were aware of the payments made through T&T Netherlands, another alleged shell company.
Fox responded by saying that it “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.”
In November 2015, Fox International Channels signed off an agreement with Conmebol for exclusive media rights to the Copa Libertadores and Copa Sudamericana from 2016 to 2018.
In the process, the South American confederation unilaterally terminated a contract with T&T, which had signed a deal with Traffic, the Brazilian sports agency also implicated in the Fifa-gate scandal, to handle the international rights to the clubs competitions.
The three men on trial in New York facing charges of racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering are Juan Ángel Napout, the Paraguayan former president of Conmebol, José Maria Marin, the former head of the CBF, the Brazilian soccer federation, and Manuel Burga, the former president of the FPF, the Peruvian federation.
Burzaco alleged that bribes had been paid to all three of the accused, who have pleaded not guilty.