Hernan Lopez, the former chief executive of US national network Fox’s international channels, and marketing agency Full Play Group, have been cleared of bribing FIFA officials to win broadcast rights to international soccer competitions in a case dating back to 2015.

The decision comes after Lopez and Play Group were convicted of wire fraud and money laundering in March after being accused by US prosecutors of bribing officials at South American soccer's governing body Conmebol to win broadcast rights in the US to the Copa Libertadores, South America’s premier club competition, and the men’s FIFA 2018 and 2022 World Cups.

However, a judge at the Brooklyn Federal Court in the US has now granted an acquittal to Lopez and Play Group following a US Supreme Court ruling in May to reverse the wire fraud conviction of Joseph Percoco, the aide to former New York governor Andrew Cuomo, due to jury instructions being too vague.

In her judgment, Judge Pamela Chen said: “The Supreme Court’s latest wire fraud decisions — especially Percoco — and the absence of precedent applying honest services wire fraud to foreign commercial bribery, requires this court to find that (the statute) does not criminalize the conduct alleged in this case and that therefore the evidence at trial was insufficient to sustain defendants’ convictions under that statute.

“Defendants’ convictions for money laundering, predicated on their honest services wire fraud convictions, also cannot be sustained. The court therefore grants defendants’ motions to acquit on all counts of conviction.”

Lopez’ lawyer David Sarratt said in a statement: “We are obviously pleased with Judge Chen’s thorough and correct decision. We never stopped believing in our client’s innocence.”

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By GlobalData

The US Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York said it is reviewing the decision.

Lopez was indicted in April 2020 along with former Fox executive Carlos Martinez over allegations they were part of a conspiracy to pay millions of dollars per year to FIFA officials in South America between 2000 and 2015 in exchange for broadcasting rights to the Copa Libertadores and confidential bidding information for US broadcast rights for the 2018 and 2022 FIFA World Cups.

Martinez was acquitted of charges in March.

The probe was part of a wider investigation by US investigators starting in 2015 into allegations that leaders of soccer federations had taken $150 million in bribes and payoffs. It has seen more than 40 defendants criminally charged with at least 31 pleading guilty.

Among those convicted include former Brazilian Football Confederation president Jose Maria Marin and former South American Football Confederation leader Juan Angel Napout.

However, Fox, which split off a subsidiary of international channels during a restructuring in 2019, was not charged and has repeatedly denied any involvement in the bribery scandal.