U.S. prosecutors allege bribes in 2018, 2022 World Cup votes

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NEW YORK (AP) — Prosecutors revealed new details of alleged bribes paid to FIFA executive committee members to gain their votes for Qatar to host the 2022 World Cup and charged a pair of former 21st Century Fox executives with making illegal payments to win broadcast rights for the 2018 and 2022 tournaments.

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An indictment unsealed Monday in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn says Nicolás Leoz, then president of the South American governing body CONMEBOL, and former Brazil federation president Ricardo Teixeira received bribes to vote for Qatar at the 2010 FIFA executive committee meeting.

Jack Warner of Trinidad and Tobago, president of the North and Central American and Caribbean governing body CONCACAF, received $5 million in bribes to vote for Russia to host in 2018 from 10 different shell companies that included entities in Anguilla, Cyprus and the British Virgin Islands, the indictment alleged. Guatemala federation president Rafael Salguero was promised a $1 million bribe to vote for Russia, according to the indictment.

Leoz, who died last August, avoided extradition, as have Warner and Teixeira. Salguero pleaded guilty in 2018 to two counts of wire fraud conspiracy and one count each of racketeering conspiracy and money laundering conspiracy.

Alejandro Burzaco, former head of the marketing company Torneos y Competencias, testified in 2017 that all three South Americans on the FIFA executive committee took million-dollar bribes to support Qatar, which prevailed over the U.S. 14-8.

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Former 21st Century Fox Inc. executives Hernan Lopez and Carlos Martinez were charged Monday with making payments to CONMEBOL officials to obtain broadcast rights bidding information from a co-conspirator whose identify was not identified in the indictment.

ESPN had U.S. English-language television rights to the World Cup from 1994-2014, but Fox in 2011 gained the rights for the 2018 and 2022 tournaments. After the 2022 tournament in Qatar was shifted from summer to late autumn, a time when it is likely to get less attention in the U.S., FIFA awarded Fox rights for 2026 without competitive bidding.


Also charged in the indictment, handed up by a grand jury on March 18, are former Imagina Media Audiovisual CEO Gerard Romy; and the Uruguayan sports marketing company Full Play Group SA.

The indictment includes charges of wire fraud and money laundering. The charges against Romy and Full Play also allege racketeering conspiracy.

“The profiteering and bribery in international soccer have been deep-seated and commonly known practices for decades,” William F. Sweeney Jr., assistant director in charge of the FBI’s New York field office, said in a statement. “Over a period of many years, the defendants and their co-conspirators corrupted the governance and business of international soccer with bribes and kickbacks, and engaged in criminal fraudulent schemes that caused significant harm to the sport of soccer. Their schemes included the use of shell companies, sham consulting contracts and other concealment methods to disguise the bribes and kickback payments and make them appear legitimate.”

Since the first indictments were announced in May 2015, there have been 26 publicly announced guilty pleas, many from former soccer officials, including CONCACAF general secretary Chuck Blazer.

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CONMEBOL president Juan Ángel Napout and Brazil federation president José Maria Marin were convicted following trials. Napout is in prison in Florida and Marin was released from a prison last week. Some individuals await sentencing.

Lopez was CEO of Fox International Channels, a 21st Century Fox subsidiary, and Martinez was president of Fox International Channels and an executive of Fox Latin American Channel Inc. They are accused of joining with Full Play to pay million of dollars in bribes to CONMEBOL executives in exchange for rights to the Copa Libertadores, South America’s annual club championship.

“It’s shocking that the government would bring such a thin case,” Lopez’s lawyer, Matthew D. Umhofer, said in an email. “The indictment contains nothing more than single paragraph about Mr. Lopez that alleges nothing remotely improper. Mr. Lopez can’t wait to defend himself at trial.”

Steven J. McCool, Martinez’s attorney, said in an email: “We are certain a jury will swiftly exonerate Carlos, as the charges against him are nothing more than stale fiction.”


Carlos Ortiz said Full Play intends to plead not guilty at Thursday’s arraignment and his client “looks forward to vigorously defending itself against all of the charges at trial.”

A lawyer for Romy did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Fox Sports also did not respond to a request for comment.

Romy is accused with joining his alleged co-conspirators to pay a $3 million bribe to Jeffrey Webb, the former president of the North and Central American and Caribbean governing body CONCACAF, for media and marketing rights to home World Cup qualifiers in the Caribbean for the 2018 and 2022 cycles. Webb pleaded guilty on Nov. 23, 2015, to several counts and awaits sentencing.

Ex-FIFA executive Jack Warner ordered to pay $79 million

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A federal judge in New York City ordered former CONCACAF executive and FIFA executive committee member Jack Warner to pay $79 million in damages.

The judgement was ruled by default after Warner did not contest a 2017 civil suit that alleged he embezzled millions of dollars from CONCACAF during his time with the North American soccer governing body. He was accused of receiving kickbacks from media rights deals concerning CONCACAF competitions, including the Gold Cup. He also was accused of receiving and organizing bribes surrounding the voting for the 2010 World Cup, which was awarded to South Africa.

Plaintiff lawyer John Kuster released a statement that claimed CONCACAF “intends to pursue all available avenues to enforce the judgment in any jurisdiction where CONCACAF has reason to believe Mr. Warner may have assets.”

Warner is currently residing in his native Trinidad & Tobago on bail while the United States looks to carry out an extradition request. The 76-year-old is part of a massive criminal investigation into bribery and other criminal action around the soccer world.

Earlier this year, the estate of the late Chuck Blazer, another disgraced former FIFA official, agreed to pay $20 million in damages regarding his own actions in the FIFA bribery case.

Secret recordings emerge as key evidence at FIFA bribe trial

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NEW YORK (AP) A turning point in the investigation of soccer’s governing body came with a 6 a.m. wake-up call by the FBI to the five-star Miami hotel room of a Brazilian sports marketing executive named Jose Hawilla.

A startled Hawilla, after learning he was a target of the probe, eventually decided to cooperate by wearing a wire – a coup for U.S. prosecutors at the ongoing U.S. trial of three former South American soccer officials charged in the corruption scandal that’s embroiled FIFA.

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The prosecutors have used the hours of the secretly recorded audio evidence to help bring charges against dozens of other soccer officials and marketing executives accused of paying them a fortune in bribes in exchange for their influence in awarding lucrative commercial rights to big tournaments. Several defendants have pleaded guilty since the case was announced in 2015.

U.S. authorities “know everything,” Hawilla said in one taped conversation with a colleague he was trying to protect, according to transcripts made public for the first time. “They have so much information that lying is the worst thing you can do.”

Jurors have heard Hawilla’s recordings and testimony at the trial of former national soccer federation presidents Jose Maria Marin, of Brazil, Manuel Burga, of Peru, and Juan Angel Napout, of Paraguay. All pleaded not guilty to conspiracy and other charges, with their lawyers arguing they were framed by untrustworthy cooperators like Hawilla seeking a break in their own cases.

The trial, which continued on Wednesday, is in its fourth week in federal court in Brooklyn.

Hawilla, a 74-year-old grandfather originally from Sao Paulo, testified that he became head of the Traffic Group marketing firm after several years as a sports journalist. He testified he learned from the start that to win contracts for commercial rights for major soccer tournaments, soccer officials expected to be paid off in a systematic way, a necessary evil some in the business accepted but he found “revolting.”

He said to get rights to the CONCACAF Gold Cup tournament in the early 1990s he paid bribes to two of the biggest names in the scandal, former FIFA officials Jack Warner, of Trinidad and Tobago, and Chuck Blazer, of the United States. Warner remains overseas fighting extradition, while Blazer became a cooperator before dying earlier this year.

A partner of Hawilla explained to him “we had to pay a bribe to Jack Warner and that, for sure, Chuck Blazer was going to find out about it and we would have to pay a bribe to him as well,” Hawilla testified in Portuguese through an interpreter.

He added: “I did not agree with the practice, but, unfortunately, you are practically forced to do that.”

Hawilla told the jury that he and other marketing executives he worked with paid tens of millions of dollars over the years to other top soccer officials in bribes papered over by falsified contracts. He named another soccer official from the Cayman Islands who’s pleaded guilty, Jeffrey Webb, as someone who took a $10 million bribe in March 2013.

The FBI arrested Hawilla about two months after the Webb bribe. By 2014, prosecutors contend, he was a full-blown informant, luring Marin into an April 2014 conversation in which the defendant negotiated a bribe by saying, “It’s about time to have it coming my way. True or not?”

Hawilla responded: “Of course. That money had to be given to you.”

In another tape, Hawilla appeared to upset two business partners by telling them he wanted to pull out of the scheme so he could clean up his business and sell it. One cautioned that anyone who bought it would have to understand that, “There will always be payoffs. There will be payoffs forever.”

The same person is overheard saying, “I want to co-exist with and make all the presidents rich,” even if it meant less money for him.

Asked in court why someone would think that way, Hawilla boiled it down to one word: “Demagoguery.”

Former South American soccer officials face US bribery trial

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NEW YORK (AP) U.S. prosecutors say Brazilian businessman Jose Maria Marin was a soccer official on the take – and wasn’t always discreet about it.

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“It’s about time to have it coming my way. True or not?” Marin said while negotiating a bribe in 2014, according to hours of recordings collected by investigators.

The alleged demand for cash in exchange for steering marketing rights for major soccer tournaments to a Brazilian company will be used against Marin as he and two other former South American soccer officials become the first defendants to go to trial in a sprawling corruption investigation that has roiled FIFA, the sport’s governing body, since it was announced in 2015.

More than 40 people have pleaded guilty to participating in a 24-year scheme involving at least $150 million in bribes tied to the award of broadcasting and hosting rights for the World Cup and other tournaments. The case has fueled allegations of corruption in the awarding of World Cup tournaments to Russia for 2018 and Qatar for 2022.

The U.S. trial will begin with opening statements Monday at a federal courthouse in New York City, where investigators say illegal banking transactions related to the scheme took place. At the defense table with Marin, former president of Brazil’s soccer federation, will be Manuel Burga, former president of Peru’s soccer federation and Juan �ngel Napout, ex-president of the South American soccer governing body CONMEBOL and of Paraguay’s soccer federation.

The men have pleaded not guilty to racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering conspiracies and are free on multimillion-dollar bonds with various travel restrictions.

Defense lawyers declined requests for comment. But at pretrial hearings, they’ve characterized the government evidence as weak and misleading.

Marin secured his bail bond with an apartment he owns in Trump Tower, once also home to Chuck Blazer , the disgraced American soccer executive whose admissions of corruption helped set off the global scandal. Blazer, 72, pleaded to racketeering, conspiracy and other counts, including admitting receiving payments in a $10 million bribe to support South Africa’s successful bid to host the 2010 World Cup, before he died this year.

The investigation has drawn intense media coverage in South America – so intense that U.S. District Judge Pamela Chen has taken the unusual step of withholding the identity of the jurors from the public to protect them from harassment. In U.S. courts, that is a security measure more common to organized crime or terrorism cases, not financial frauds.

Documents filed by the government in advance of the trial suggest Alejandro Burzaco, an Argentinian-Italian marketing executive who has pleaded guilty in exchange for a possible sentence reduction, could emerge as a key witness.

Prosecutors say Napout, 59, and Burga, 60, were among a bloc of powerful soccer officers for CONMEBOL known as the “gang of six” when Burzaco was paying the group annual six-figure bribes in exchange for getting the organization to grant broadcasting rights for the Copa Libertadores to Burzaco’s firm.

Separately, prosecutors said in court filings, unnamed co-conspirators were shelling out about $1 million a year in bribes to Marin from the firm vying for sponsorship of the Copa do Brasil tournament from 2013 to 2022.

Prosecutors said that in 2014, Marin, who is now 85, traveled to Miami for a meeting where he told an unnamed co-conspirator it was time to pay up.

“Of course, of course, of course. That money had to be given to you,” the co-conspirator assured Marin, according to court papers quoting the recordings.

“That’s it. That’s right,” Marin said.

Prosecutors are expected to call witnesses that include an owner and employee of a sports marketing company to detail how documents were shredded and a computer server scrubbed as part of a cover-up after the charges in the case were announced.

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There also will be testimony about how Napout ordered electronic devices removed from his CONMEBOL office on the morning of his 2015 arrest in Zurich, Switzerland, prosecutors said in a court filing.

At another 2014 meeting involving Burzaco, the cooperating marketing executive, and other people where the bribery scheme was discussed, Burzaco made it clear he knew they were breaking the law and expressed his misgivings, the papers say of yet another recording.

“All can get hurt because of this subject,” he said. “All of us go to prison.”

FIFA whistleblower Chuck Blazer dead at 72

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Chuck Blazer, the American soccer executive beset by controversy and illness in his final years, has died at the age of 72.

Blazer is credited with turning CONCACAF into a respected confederation, and helped start the Gold Cup, but is perhaps best known now for turning whistleblower on his FIFA compatriots when confronted with his own illegal activities.

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He was given a lifetime ban from FIFA after admitting he took bribes.

Here’s what Bruce Arena had to say about Blazer after the U.S. defeated Martinique 3-2, according to the Associated Press:

“I’ve known Chuck for a lot of years. He did a lot for the sport. Sorry about all the issues regarding FIFA, but he was a good man,” U.S. national team coach Bruce Arena said. “He helped the sport in the United States.”