Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Ex-marketing executive: Fox Sports involved in soccer bribes

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NEW YORK (AP) — Fox Sports partnered with a South American marketing firm to make millions of dollars in bribes to high-ranking soccer officials in exchange for lucrative broadcasting rights to major tournaments, the marketing company's former CEO testified Tuesday at a U.S. corruption trial.

Alejandro Burzaco, former CEO of the firm based in Argentina, testified that Fox and other broadcasters were involved in a scheme to pay bribes — concealed using offshore side entities and sham contracts — that secured rights for the Copa America and other events.

As evidence of the scheme, prosecutors at the trial at a federal court in New York City produced a 2008 agreement for the partnership to pay $3.7 million to a holding company in Turks and Caicos that was an alleged conduit for the bribes. They say it was signed by a former Fox executive.

Asked whom he kept informed about the bribe arrangements, Burzaco responded, "Fox Pan American Sports. Fox Sports."

Through the bribes, the network "gained leverage and rights to broadcast its signal to Argentina" and other parts of the world, he added.

Last year, a Florida-based soccer network that repeatedly lost out on the television rights to tournaments that Fox Sports aired had made similar bribery allegations against Fox in a pending federal lawsuit.

Fox Sports denied any involvement in bribery in a statement issued late Tuesday. The statement said Burzaco's company was a subsidiary of Fox Pan American Sports, which at the time was under the control of a private-equity firm.

"Any suggestion that Fox Sports knew of or approved of any bribes is emphatically false," the statement said. "Fox Sports had no operational control of the entity with Burzaco ran."

Burzaco said other media businesses — including Televisa, Media Pro, TV Globo, Full Play Argentina, and Traffic — had all paid bribes for soccer rights as well. In a statement, Globo vehemently denied making bribes and said it was willing to cooperate with U.S. authorities.

The testimony came on the second day of the U.S. trial of three former South American soccer officials accused of taking bribes in a sprawling corruption investigation of FIFA, the sport's governing body. Burzaco, who has pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy and other charges, has emerged as a key witness against Jose Maria Marin, Manuel Burga and Juan Angel Napout.

The former officials, who have pleaded not guilty, are the first to face trial in the investigation accusing them of taking part in a 24-year scheme involving at least $150 million in bribes. More than 40 other officials have pleaded guilty in hopes of receiving reduced sentences.

Burzaco was asked to point out the three defendants in the courtroom while testifying that he bribed all of them. The witness described a series of meeting at hotels and restaurants in Buenos Aires starting in 2012 where he helped strike deals for annual six-figure bribes for Marin; the former president of Brazil's soccer federation; Burga, former president of Peru's soccer federation; and Napout, ex-head of Paraguay's soccer federation.

After one meeting where arrangements were made to wire Marin a portion of a $2 million bribe, he "gave me a hug and showed me his gratitude," Burzaco said. At another, Burga "told me he was happy collecting the bribes," he said. After being charged in 2015, Burzaco testified that he briefly went into hiding before deciding to turn himself in and cooperate.

"I said, 'Alejandro, you go to the United States and face justice,'" he said about the decision. "'Accept responsibility.'"

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