Some of the world’s biggest broadcasters, including Fox Sports, Globo and Grupo Televisa, were named in connection with the corruption of international football, with a former sports-marketing executive telling a US jury that the companies paid bribes to win lucrative, multiyear rights for tournaments.
Alejandro Burzaco, the former chief executive of sports-marketing company Torneos y Competencias and a government witness, testified about the bribery at the trial of three former FIFA executives, saying other companies were also involved including Full Play Argentina and Traffic Group in Brazil.
Asked by Assistant US Attorney Sam Nitze what Fox Sports hoped to gain by winning the broadcasting rights, Mr Burzaco said the company wanted to use “the TV rights to expand its Fox signal in all of the Americas, from Argentina to the USA”.
The allegations further tarnish Fox’s image just as the media giant tries to persuade UK regulators to allow the acquisition of full control of Sky. The Competition and Markets Authority is looking into issues of corporate culture at Fox, including sexual harassment allegations at Fox News, as part of its review of £11.7bn bid for the rest of Sky.
Fox Sports didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment. 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.”
Jurors at the trial were shown what Mr Burzaco called a “sham” $3.7m (£2.8m) contract that was alleged to be a cover for bribes. Torneos and its partners used the money to pay FIFA officials like Julio Grondona, head of Argentine football, to extend broadcast rights from 2015 to 2018, Mr Burzaco said. Grondona 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,“ Mr Burzaco said.
The 2008 contract was signed by James Ganley, whom Mr 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.
“Mr Ganley has a well-earned reputation as a highly accomplished and ethical business executive,” his lawyer, Benedict P. Kuehne, said in an email. “He was never aware of or signed any fraudulent contracts.”
Mr 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, Mr Burzaco said he started investing in media broadcast companies in South America in the early 1990s, raising his net worth to about $30m.
He told the jury that he regularly paid out hundreds of thousands of dollars — sometimes as much as $1m a year — in bribes to South American football officials. Mr 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, Mr 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 organising committee for the Olympics; Juan Angel Napout, 59, a Paraguayan and former FIFA official who was president of South American football’s governing body; and Manuel Burga, 60, a Peruvian football official and former member of FIFA’s development committee.
In testimony late Tuesday, Mr Burzaco testified that that Grondona and two other CONMEBOL officials allegedly got bribes of more $1m from Qatar’s football authorities to award the country the 2022 World Cup. Mr Burzaco continues his testimony when court resumes Wednesday.