Russia

PHILIPPE DESMAZES/AFP via Getty Images

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

Leave a comment

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.

[ MORE: Former U.S. TV execs indicted on charges of World Cup bribery ]

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.

[ MORE: Report: Premier League prepares for June return ]

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.

[ MORE: Son Heung-min to complete military service in South Korea ]

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.

Zenit fans chant ‘we’re all going to die’ during game amid coronavirus outbreak

Getty Images
Leave a comment

There is still top-flight soccer being played in Russia, and some of Zenit St. Petersburg supporters were filmed chanting an alarming message on Saturday amid the coronavirus pandemic.

During Zenit’s 7-1 thumping of FC Ural at a jam-packed Grazprom Arena, fans of the Russian giants were collectively chanting “we’re all going to die.”  The same supporters group also held up a banner that read: “We are all infected with football and will die for Zenit.”

There are a reported 59 confirmed cases of coronavirus(COVID-19) in Russia, with five cases in St. Petersburg. A ban effective on Monday will limit public events to 1,000 people in St. Petersburg, making Saturday’s bout the last with an unrestricted attendance for the foreseeable future.

After 22 matchweeks, Zenit tops the Russian Premier League with 50 points, nine more than second best FC Krasnodar, who are expected to play with fans on Sunday against Sochi.

Early Euro qualifiers: Belgium, Netherlands, Russia all win

Getty Images
Leave a comment

In the early slate of Sunday’s Euro 2020 qualifiers, there were little surprises as Belgium, Russia, Hungary, the Netherlands, and Scotland all found the winner’s column.

Liverpool midfielder Giorginio Wijnaldum bagged a first-half brace, including an absolute rocket, as the Netherlands held on for a 2-1 win over Belarus. BATE Borisov midfielder Stanislav Dragun grabbed one back for Belarus soon after halftime, but the visitors held on in Minsk.

[ WATCH: Wijnaldum scores ripper for Netherlands ]

Virgil Van Dijk and Matthijs de Ligt partnered in defense yet again, as they have for 17 of the last 19 Netherlands games, conceding just 17 goals in those 17 matches. Thanks in part to that stellar partnership, Jasper Cillessen had little to do, with Dragun’s headed goal the only shot on target for Belarus in the match, while the Netherlands put seven of their 21 shots on frame.

Michy Batshuayi and Thomas Meunier both found the back of the net as Belgium topped Kazakhstan 2-0 in Astana to remain perfect in qualifying action and keep pace with Russia in Group I. Batshuayi was filling in for an injured Romelu Lukaku, and he latched onto a low back-post cross from Dennis Praet for the opener 21 minutes in. Meunier’s 53rd minute poke came off an absolutely stunning long delivery from Eden Hazard to the far post placed perfectly over the head of the defender. Belgium held 66% possession throughout the match, and while they were only able to put three shots on target, they scored on two of them and held the hosts to just one. Belgium has now scored 30 goals in Euro qualification while conceding just one.

Russia also continued to surge ahead in Group I play one game back of Belgium with a 5-0 demolition of Cyprus in Nicosia. Denis Cheryshev struck nine minutes in to put Russia ahead as he pilfered the ball off the Cyprus back line. The hosts lost Standard Liege defender Konstantinos Laifis to a straight red card, and the rest was elementary. Magomed Ozdoev, Artem Dzyuba, and Aleksandr Golovin all found the back of the net before Cheryshev finished it off with his second of the game in stoppage time. Russia and Belgium have both qualified for the finals, with Russia sitting in second three points behind the perfect group leaders.

Hungary scored 10 minutes in and hung on for a 1-0 victory at home over Azerbaijan. 30-year-old Mihaly Korhut struck a long-distance ripper from well outside the box that appeared to catch goalkeeper Emil Balayev off guard, and the Hungary defense did the rest. RB Leipzig captain Willi Orban and Sporting Kansas City defender Botond Barath held Azerbaijan to just four total shots, including two on target. Meanwhile, despite splitting the possession nearly halfway, Hungary ripped off 23 shots, putting six on target.

Scotland hammered San Marino at home 6-0 behind a first-half hat-trick from Aston Villa midfielder John McGinn. In the pouring rain in Glasgow, McGinn opened the scoring 12 minutes in for his second international goal on a simple cutback and shot from Ryan Christie which clipped McGinn on its way inside the far post. He hit for a second just before the half-hour mark as he poked home a cross by Scott McTominay that was saved into no-man’s land by a diving San Marino goalkeeper Aldo Junior Simoncini. The third featured the highest degree of difficulty as a set-piece delivery into the box was headed by Stuart Findlay towards the far post and McGinn ripped it home on the doorstep under pressure. Lawrence Shankland, Findlay, and Stuart Armstrong finished off the scoreline in the second half, although Scotland has still long been eliminated from qualification in the top-heavy Group I.

Russian players let out on parole in brawl case

Getty Images
1 Comment

MOSCOW (AP) Two Russian national team soccer players were let out on parole Friday after serving part of their prison sentences for a series of brawls.

Zenit St. Petersburg forward Alexander Kokorin and FC Krasnodar midfielder Pavel Mamayev were arrested last October after being accused of attacking a man in a Moscow hotel parking lot, a senior trade ministry official and a car designer in a cafe.

Kokorin was sentenced to 18 months in prison in May, while Mamayev was sentenced to 17 months, though both sentences were already reduced due to time spent in pre-trial detention.

A district court in the western Belgorod region ruled that “for the purpose of their correction, they do not need to serve the sentence in full.”

In a statement on the decision to release the pair, along with Kokorin’s brother Kirill, the court said they had behaved well behind bars.

“They did not commit any breaches of the detention regime and do not have disciplinary charges,” the statement said. “While serving their sentences, all three were employed in the prison colony’s sewing factory.”

Kokorin and Mamayev’s trial was a media sensation in Russia, where they had already played the role of public villains in 2016 after being filmed partying in Monaco following the Russian team’s early elimination from the European Championship.

The Russian prison service, often criticized over mistreatment of prisoners, used their detention for some rare positive publicity. That included Mamayev playing a soccer game in an exercise yard on Valentine’s Day while in pre-trial custody.

They will be released on Sept. 17 if there is no appeal from prosecutors. The court said prosecutors supported the parole.

Kokorin has played 48 times for Russia, while Mamayev made 15 international appearances from 2010-16. Kokorin is a free agent, though Zenit hasn’t ruled out re-signing, while Krasnodar has tried to cancel its contract with Mamayev.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/tag/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Russian club locked out of its new World Cup stadium

Photo by David Ramos - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images
Leave a comment

MOSCOW (AP) A dispute over the World Cup’s legacy in Russia has intensified after top-flight club FC Rostov claimed it had been locked out of its new stadium.

[ MORE: FIFA unveils logo for 2022 World Cup in Qatar ]

Rostov spokesman Denis Shtanko told the state RIA Novosti news agency that club employees have been barred from the 45,000-seat Rostov Arena after a dispute with the state-owned company Sport-In, which operates seven stadiums built for last year’s World Cup.

Sport-In has said it was owed large sums by the club for hosting games last season, but that the debts have been cleared and the club can play. Sport-In hasn’t commented on Rostov’s allegation that its staff were locked out.

[ EURO 2020 qualifying preview: Germany-Netherlands showdown on deck ]

Rostov is due to play a friendly against the Syrian national team Sunday at its old stadium nearby, but it’s not clear where it will play its next Russian Premier League game on Sept. 15.