Fox and other top broad­cast­ers in­volved in Fifa bribe scheme, wit­ness tells court

The Guardian Australia - - Technology / Sport - Oliver Laugh­land in New York

Some of the world’s largest broad­cast­ers, in­clud­ing Fox Sports, were in­volved in bribe pay­ments to Fifa of­fi­cials in or­der to se­cure the broad­cast rights to ma­jor South Amer­i­can foot­ball tour­na­ments, a key wit­ness in the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into cor­rup­tion at foot­ball’s gov­ern­ing body has told a fed­eral court in New York City.

Ale­jan­dro Burzaco, the for­mer CEO of Tor­neos y Com­pe­ten­cias, a ma­jor sports mar­ket­ing com­pany based in Ar­gentina, tes­ti­fied that five other com­pa­nies he had part­nered with, in­clud­ing Brazil­ian net­work Globo and the Mex­i­can net­work Grupo Tele­visa, had bribed Fifa of­fi­cials dur­ing his ten­ure.

Burzaco gave ev­i­dence on the sec­ond day of the trial of three for­mer South Amer­i­can foot­ball ad­min­is­tra­tors, charged with ac­cept­ing mil­lions of dol­lars in bribes. The hear­ing is part of a sprawl­ing fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tion into en­demic cor­rup­tion at Fifa re­sult­ing in over 40 crim­i­nal charges filed against foot­ball and mar­ket­ing ex­ec­u­tives im­pli­cated in the global con­spir­acy.

Burzaco has al­ready pleaded guilty to rack­e­teer­ing, wire fraud and money laun­der­ing con­spir­a­cies af­ter he was in­dicted in 2015, and has since been as­sist­ing US au­thor­i­ties. He is one of 23 peo­ple to have pleaded guilty al­ready.

The court heard how Burzaco had paid reg­u­lar bribes, of­ten six-fig­ure sums, pri­mar­ily to six se­nior of­fi­cials of the South Amer­i­can foot­ball gov­ern­ing body, Con­mebol, in ex­change for the broad­cast rights to the Copa Lib­er­ta­dores, South Amer­ica’s pre­mier in­ter­na­tional club com­pe­ti­tion.

Pros­e­cu­tors homed in on the ac­tiv­i­ties of T amp;T, a sports mar­ket­ing com­pany that has, since 2002, been jointly owned by Tor­neos y Com­pe­ten­cias and Fox Pan Amer­i­can Sports and held the rights to the tour­na­ment.

The court was pre­sented with a se­ries of con­tracts be­tween Con­mebol and T amp;T, re­lat­ing to the ex­ten­sion of broad­cast rights for the tour­na­ment in 2008. Burzaco told the court he had paid se­nior of­fi­cials, in­clud­ing the Ar­gen­tinian foot­ball ex­ec­u­tive and for­mer se­nior Fifa vice-pres­i­dent Julio Gron­dona and the for­mer Con­mebol pres­i­dent Ni­colás Leoz, a range of “spe­cial bribes” rang­ing be­tween $500,000 to $1m to se­cure the ex­ten­sion. The money was in ad­di­tion to an­nual bribes, be­tween $300,000 to $1.3m, that the six se­nior Con­mebol of­fi­cials were al­ready re­ceiv­ing from T amp;T for the rights to tour­na­ment.

T amp;T, Burzaco said, had cre­ated a sham com­pany to pay out the one off cash sums. The court saw a con­tract be­tween T amp;T and an en­tity named Somer­ton for $3.7m.

“It’s not a real con­tract, sir,” Burzaco con­ceded as he told the court all the money had gone to pay off the of­fi­cials. Burzaco noted one of the con­tract’s sig­na­to­ries was the for­mer Fox Pan Amer­i­can Sports chief oper­at­ing of­fi­cer James Gan­ley. Burzaco had ear­lier told the court that Fox had be­come the ma­jor­ity owner of T amp;T in 2005.

On Tues­day evening, Fox re­sponded to the al­le­ga­tions in court. “Any sug­ges­tion that Fox Sports knew of or ap­proved of any bribes is em­phat­i­cally false,” read a state­ment. “Fox Sports 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.”

Ear­lier in the day, Burzaco had also said he had paid bribes to the three for­mer foot­ball ex­ec­u­tives on trial.

José María Marín, the 85-yearold for­mer head of Brazil’s foot­ball fed­er­a­tion, Juan Án­gel Napout, the 59-year-old Paraguayan who was pres­i­dent of Con­mebol, and Manuel Burga, the 60-year-old for­mer pres­i­dent of the Peru­vian foot­ball fed­er­a­tion, have de­nied mul­ti­ple counts of rack­e­teer­ing, wire fraud and money laun­der­ing.

Ale­jan­dro Burzaco, cen­ter, a key wit­ness in the Fifa cor­rup­tion trial, gave ev­i­dence on al­leged bribery. Pho­to­graph: Don Em­mert/AFP/Getty Images

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