Fox Sports partnered with a South American marketing firm to send millions of dollars in bribes to high-ranking soccer officials in exchange for lucrative broadcasting rights to major tournaments, the firm’s former chief executive testified Tuesday at the FIFA corruption trial.
Alejandro Burzaco, the former chief executive of the firm based in Argentina, testified that Fox and other broadcasters were involved in a scheme to pay bribes — concealed by using offshore side entities and sham contracts — that secured rights for the Copa América and other events.
As evidence of the scheme, prosecutors at the trial at a federal courthouse in Brooklyn produced a 2008 agreement for the partnership to pay $3.7 million to a holding company in Turks and Caicos that was said to be a conduit for the bribes. The prosecutors said it was signed by a former Fox executive.
Asked whom he kept informed about the bribe arrangements, Burzaco said: “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 soccer network based in Florida that repeatedly lost out on the television rights to tournaments that Fox Sports aired made similar bribery allegations against Fox in a pending federal lawsuit.
Fox Sports did not immediately reply to a request for comment on Tuesday’s testimony.
Burzaco said other media companies, including Traffic, Televisa, Media Pro, TV Globo and Full Play Argentina 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 United States authorities.
The testimony came on the second day of the 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, the former head of Torneos and Competencias who has pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy and other charges, has emerged as a key witness against José Maria Marin, Manuel Burga and Juan Ángel Napout.
The former officials, who have pleaded not guilty, are the first to face trial in the investigation. They are accused of taking part in a scheme spanning 24 years and 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 had bribed all of them. He described a series of meetings at hotels and restaurants in Buenos Aires starting in 2012 during which he helped forge deals for annual six-figure bribes for Marin, the former president of Brazil’s soccer federation; Burga, the former president of Peru’s soccer federation; and Napout, the former head of Paraguay’s soccer federation.
After one meeting where arrangements were made to wire Marin a portion of a $2 million bribe, Marin “gave me a hug and showed me his gratitude,” Burzaco said. At another, Burga “told me he was happy collecting the bribes,” Burzaco 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.’”