Lodi News-Sentinel

FIFA soccer corruption trial kicks off in New York, focus on World Cup bids

- Anna Gratzer and Leonard Greene

NEW YORK — Instead of investing in stadiums and soccer leagues for women and youth, corrupt FIFA officials lined their pockets with money that could have helped expand the sport across the globe, a Brooklyn prosecutor said Tuesday.

A long-running corruption probe surroundin­g FIFA, the world governing body for soccer, has culminated in a trial that got underway in Brooklyn Federal Court, where TV network executives and a sports marketing company face bribery charges.

In an opening statement, prosecutor­s said two former 21st Century Fox executives, Hernan Lopez and Carlos Martinez, teamed up with Buenos Aires-based Full Play Group SA to secure lucrative broadcasti­ng rights for South America’s top club tournament, and for inside informatio­n about bidding for U.S. broadcast rights for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.

To get the inside track, the defendants used secret ledgers and coded messages to hide illicit payments.

“This case is about the corruption of internatio­nal soccer,” prosecutor Victor Zapana told jurors in opening statements. “Everyone won except the game of soccer.”

The scandal known in some circles as FIFA Gate came to light for the first time in May 2015 in the United States, and exposed a scheme of irregular million-dollar payments by sports marketing companies to Latin American soccer leaders.

In exchange, the rights to television broadcasts and promotion in tournament­s were granted.

The defendants have pleaded not guilty to charges that include wire fraud and money laundering.

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