NEW YORK — A key witness in the FIFA trial testified Tuesday that major media companies — including Fox Sports — bribed officials for soccer broadcasting rights.
Alejandro Burzaco, a witness for the prosecution in the case, said in court that he was aware of six media companies involved in bribes, including Fox, Globo from Brazil, Media Pro from Spain, and Televisa from Mexico.
Fox Sports is by far the largest of the group, however, and is owned by 21st Century Fox, the multinational conglomerate controlled by Rupert Murdoch.
Burzaco testified that one top official for the broadcaster signed a phony contract designed only to cover up payment of $3.7 million in bribes. Burzaco, who is from Argentina, was indicted in May 2015, pleaded guilty later that year, and has been cooperating with the government since then.
On Monday evening, a spokesperson for Fox Sports sent BuzzFeed News the following statement: “Any suggestion that Fox Sports knew of or approved of any bribes is emphatically false. Fox Sports had no operational control of the entity which Burzaco ran. The entity run by Burzaco was a subsidiary of Fox Pan American Sports, which in 2008, at the time of the contract in question, was majority owned by a private equity firm and under their operational and management control.”
The testimony in the criminal case comes as Fox Sports is being sued, separately, for alleged bribery in Miami federal court. The suit, filed by an Uruguayan sports media company, claimed Fox and its executives, along with Burzaco and sports marketing executives, conspired to pay bribes to South American soccer officials in exchange for rights to tournaments. By doing so, the lawsuit contends, the Urguayan company, Gol TV, was unfairly prevented from acquiring those rights, even though it had made a larger offer.
On the stand, Burzaco said a company he helped control, T&T, routinely paid bribes to soccer officials in exchange for rights to the Copa Libertadores and Copa Sudamericana, two popular club team tournaments held in South America every year. Fox had a 75% stake in T&T at the time many of those bribes were signed.
Additionally, according to Burzaco, the former chief operating officer of Fox Pan American Sports, James Ganley, signed a fraudulent contract in January 2008 that allowed T&T to pay $3.7 million in bribes to multiple soccer officials in exchange for a rights contract extension signed soon thereafter. Prosecutors displayed a copy of the contract, clearly bearing Ganley's signature, to the jury.
In addition to Fox, Burzaco pointed his finger at a number of other companies. In court on Tuesday, he said the head of sports at Globo, the largest media company in Brazil, was present at a dinner where $600,000 annual bribes for two Brazilian soccer officials were negotiated. And without giving any details, he said that Spanish company Media Pro, Argentina's Full Play, Brazil's Traffic, and Mexican television giant Televisa also were involved in paying bribes.
Recently, evidence arose that Televisa may have been involved in paying bribes to secure broadcast rights for Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay for four consecutive World Cups.
The allegation was one of a number of bombshells during Burzaco’s nearly seven hours of testimony on Tuesday in the trial of three South American soccer officials accused of bribery and money laundering.
Burzaco also said that Julio Grondona, the former president of Argentina's soccer federation and a former FIFA vice president, took at least $1 million in bribes in exchange for his vote for Qatar to host the 2022 World Cup.
The trial, expected to last six weeks, opened on Monday. The defendants are Jose Maria Marin of Brazil, Manuel Burga of Peru, and Juan Angel Napout of Paraguay. Burzaco's testimony is expected to continue on Wednesday.
James Ganley is the former chief operating officer of Fox Pan American Sports. This post previously misidentified his position with the media company.