Former Executives from U.S. Broadcasting Company 21st Century Fox and Spanish Sports Media Company Imagina Media Audiovisual SL, along with Argentina-Based Sports Marketing Company Full Play Group S.A., Charged with Bribing Soccer Officials
A 53-count third-superseding indictment (the "Indictment") was unsealed today in federal court in Brooklyn charging sports marketing executives Hernan Lopez and Carlos Martinez, formerly of 21st Century Fox, Inc. ("Fox"); Gerard Romy, former co-CEO of Spanish media company Imagina Media Audiovisual SL ("Imagina"); and Uruguayan sports marketing company Full Play Group S.A. ("Full Play") (collectively, the "New Defendants") with wire fraud, money laundering and related offenses – including, as to Romy and Full Play, racketeering conspiracy – in connection with the government’s long-running investigation and prosecution of corruption in organized soccer. The Indictment, returned under seal by a federal grand jury on March 18, 2020, includes additional charges against certain defendants located overseas who were previously indicted and have yet to be extradited to the United States.
Defendants Lopez, Martinez and Full Play are scheduled to be arraigned on April 9, 2020, before United States District Judge Pamela K. Chen in Brooklyn.
Richard P. Donoghue, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, William F. Sweeney, Jr., Assistant Director-in-Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation, New York Field Office (FBI), and Ryan L. Korner, Special Agent-in-Charge, Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation, Los Angeles Field Office (IRS-CI), announced the charges.
"The charges unsealed today reflect this Office’s ongoing commitment to rooting out corruption at the highest levels of international soccer and at the businesses engaged in promoting and broadcasting the sport," stated United States Attorney Donoghue. "Companies and individuals alike should understand that, regardless of their wealth or power, they will be brought to justice if they use the U.S. financial system to further corrupt ends." Mr. Donoghue extended his thanks to the agents and other investigative personnel at the FBI New York Eurasian Joint Organized Crime Squad, the FBI’s Integrity in Sport and Gaming Initiative and the IRS-CI Los Angeles Field Office, as well as their colleagues in the United States and abroad, for their continuing effort in this case.
"The profiteering and bribery in international soccer have been deep-seated and commonly known practices for decades. These men, along with the general public, have known the FBI New York and our many law enforcement partners are investigating the illicit handshakes and backroom deals hidden in the infrastructure of soccer events, venues and marketing contracts. The first public charges date back to 2015. This should illustrate to everyone still hoping to score millions corruptly, we're going to find you," stated FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Sweeney.
"As charged in the Indictment, 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. IRS-CI is proud to have worked alongside our partners at the FBI to unravel this trail of deception," stated IRS-CI Special Agent-in-Charge Korner.
As alleged in the Indictment, FIFA and its six continental confederations – including the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football ("CONCACAF"), headquartered in the United States, and the Confederación Sudamericana de Fútbol ("CONMEBOL"), the confederation governing soccer in South America – together with affiliated regional federations, national member associations and sports marketing companies, constitute an enterprise of legal entities associated in fact for purposes of the federal racketeering laws. The principal – and entirely legitimate – purpose of the enterprise is to regulate and promote the sport of soccer worldwide. Consistent with previous indictments returned in the case, the Indictment alleges that over a period of more than two decades, the defendants and their co-conspirators corrupted the enterprise by engaging in various criminal activities, including fraud, bribery and money laundering.
As set forth in the Indictment, the New Defendants used their positions in the world of international soccer to engage in schemes involving the solicitation, offer, acceptance, payment and receipt of bribes and kickbacks, principally to obtain lucrative broadcast rights to various international soccer tournaments and events. For example, as alleged:
---Lopez and Martinez, formerly high-ranking executives of Fox subsidiaries responsible for developing and carrying out Fox’s sports broadcasting businesses in Latin America, joined Full Play and other co-conspirators in a scheme involving the annual payment of millions of dollars in bribes to officials of CONMEBOL in exchange for the lucrative broadcasting rights to the Copa Libertadores, the region’s most popular club tournament, among other events. Lopez and Martinez also relied on loyalty secured through the payment of bribes to certain CONMEBOL officials to advance the business interests of Fox, including to obtain confidential bidding information for the rights to broadcast the 2018 and 2022 World Cup tournaments in the United States, rights that Fox successfully obtained.
---Romy was a high-ranking executive and shareholder of Imagina, a privately held, multinational media conglomerate based in Barcelona, Spain, that owned various subsidiaries around the world, including in the United States. Romy participated in schemes to pay millions of dollars to high-ranking officials of the Caribbean Football Union ("CFU") and of federations within the Central American Football Union ("UNCAF"), both regional soccer unions operating under the CONCACAF umbrella, to secure the media and marketing rights to FIFA World Cup qualifier matches organized by federations within the CFU and UNCAF. In connection with the CFU scheme, Romy and his co-conspirators agreed to pay Jeffrey Webb, a senior official of the CFU and the president of CONCACAF, a $3 million bribe in exchange for a share of a contract awarding the media and marketing rights to CFU members’ home World Cup qualifier matches for the 2018 and 2022 qualification cycles.
---Full Play, a sports marketing company incorporated in Uruguay, based in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and owned by father-and-son defendants Hugo Jinkis and Mariano Jinkis, participated in numerous schemes to pay bribes to officials of CONMEBOL and CONCACAF in exchange for media and marketing rights to various soccer events, including World Cup qualifier and friendly matches, the Copa Libertadores, and multiple editions of the Copa América, a national team tournament administered by CONMEBOL. Hugo and Mariano Jinkis, charged in the first indictment in the case unsealed on May 27, 2015, are among the defendants charged in the Indictment and remain fugitives.
In connection with the above schemes, the Indictment charges Romy and Full Play with RICO conspiracy and all four New Defendants with wire fraud and money laundering offenses. Each of the offenses carries a maximum of 20 years’ imprisonment, and, if convicted, each defendant faces mandatory restitution, forfeiture and a fine.
Other schemes alleged in the Indictment relate to the payment and receipt of bribes and kickbacks in connection with, among other things, contracts for the media and marketing rights to additional soccer events and FIFA’s selection of the countries to host various editions of the World Cup, including the World Cup hosted by Russia in 2018 and the World Cup scheduled to be hosted by Qatar in 2022.
The charges in the indictment are allegations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
The government’s case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Samuel P. Nitze, M. Kristin Mace, Keith D. Edelman, Patrick T. Hein, Kaitlin T. Farrell, David C. Pitluck and Brian D. Morris, with assistance provided by the Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs and Organized Crime and Gang Section.
The New Defendants:
Los Angeles, California
FULL PLAY GROUP S.A.
Buenos Aires, Argentina
E.D.N.Y. Docket No. 15-CR-252 (S-3) (PKC)
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