Fox Sports paid bribes for soccer rights: FIFA witness

Rupert Murdoch’s Fox Sports paid bribes to win the rights to broadcast international soccer matches as the network sought to expand its audience throughout North and South America, a jury in New York was told.
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Alejandro Burzaco, the former chief executive officer of sports-marketing company Torneos y Competencias, testified about the bribes paid by Fox Sports and other broadcasters at a trial of three former soccer executives charged in a wide-ranging international probe of corruption in the sport.

Fox Sports was among several international broadcasters who partnered with Torneos to obtain television rights to broadcast South American soccer tournaments, Burzaco said. All except one paid bribes, he said.

Asked by Assistant US Attorney Sam Nitze what Fox Sports hoped to gain by winning the broadcasting rights, Burzaco replied, “Using the TV rights to expand its Fox signal in all of the Americas from Argentina to the USA.”

Fox Sports didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. Shares of its parent company, Twenty-First Century Fox, fell as much as 2.7 per cent to $US27.77 after the testimony.

The claims refer to Fox Sports in the US, not News Corp’s n sports channel.

The allegations further tarnish Fox’s image just as the media giant tries to persuade British regulators to allow the acquisition of full control of pay TV provider Sky.

The UK’s Competition and Markets Authority is looking into issues of corporate culture at Fox, including its handling of sexual harassment allegations at Fox News by stars such as prime time host Bill O’Reilly and its late former boss Roger Ailes, as part of its review of ??11.7 billion ($18.6 billion) bid for the rest of Sky.

Other companies implicated include Globo and Grupo Televisa, Full Play Argentina and Traffic Group in Brazil. Televisa in Mexico and Traffic declined to comment on the testimony. Full Play couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

Globo’s press office in Brazil denied the allegations and any wrongdoing. The company said it doesn’t “make or tolerate any bribe payments.” Globo conducted internal investigations and concluded that no payments that hadn’t been specified in contracts were made.

“Globo Group will make itself fully available to the American authorities so that everything is clear,” the company said. “For Globo, this is a question of honour.” FIFA scandal spreads to Asia

Jurors at the trial were shown what Burzaco called a “sham” $US3.7 million ($4.7 million) contract that was actually a cover for bribes. Torneos and its partners used the money to pay FIFA officials like Julio Grodona, head of Argentine soccer, to extend broadcast rights from 2015 to 2018, Burzaco said. Grodona died in 2014.

Torneos avoided potential competition with the contract extension while Fox Sports “gained leverage and the rights to broadcast and distribute its signal from the US to Argentina for four more years and to launch Fox Sports 2 and Fox Sports 3, and other signals,” Burzaco said.

The 2008 contract was signed by James Ganley, whom Burzaco identified as a Fox Sports official who was aware of the bribes. Ganley, former chief operating officer of Fox Pan American Sports, was named in a 2016 US lawsuit in which Fox executives were accused by a US-based television channel, GolTV, of paying tens of millions of dollars in bribes to FIFA officials.

Michael Davis, a lawyer for Ganley, didn’t immediately return voice-mail and email messages seeking comment about Burzaco’s testimony. Handing out cash

Burzaco was the head of Torneos from 2006 until his arrest in 2015. He’s the first of several cooperating witnesses who’ve pleaded guilty and are seeking leniency by testifying for the US in the trial in Brooklyn, New York.

A former Citigroup banker, Burzaco said he started investing in media broadcast companies in South America in the early 1990s, raising his net worth to about $US30 million.

He told the jury that he regularly paid out hundreds of thousands of dollars — sometimes as much as $US1 million a year — in bribes to South American soccer officials. Burzaco said the money was funnelled to accounts in Asia and Switzerland. Sometimes, he said, he handed out cash, with US dollars tucked into an envelope or stuffed into a bag.

The three men on trial were among the recipients, Burzaco said, pointing out the defendants who are accused of taking bribes and kickbacks.

The defendants are Jose Maria Marin, 85, the former head of Brazil’s federation and once on FIFA’s organiaing committee for the Olympics; Juan Angel Napout, 59, a Paraguayan and former FIFA official who was president of South American soccer’s governing body; and Manuel Burga, 60, a Peruvian soccer official and former member of FIFA’s development committee.

Bloomberg

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