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U.S. government witness in FIFA trial says media companies paid bribes

73   //    15 Nov 2017, 06:00 IST
FILE PICTURE: Businessman Alejandro Burzaco (L) of Argentina arrives at the Federal Court in Brooklyn, New York, September 18, 2015. REUTERS/John Taggart
FILE PICTURE: Businessman Alejandro Burzaco (L) of Argentina arrives at the Federal Court in Brooklyn, New York, September 18, 2015. REUTERS/John Taggart

By Brendan Pierson

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A prosecution witness in the U.S. corruption trial of three former soccer officials testified on Tuesday that Fox Sports, Mexico's Grupo Televisa and Brazil's Globo paid bribes to secure television rights for soccer matches.

The testimony came during the first trial to emerge from the U.S. investigation of bribery surrounding FIFA, soccer's world governing body.

Alejandro Burzaco, former head of sports marketing company Torneos y Competencias, named the companies while being questioned by a prosecutor in Brooklyn federal court. Torneos and Fox Sports, a unit of Twenty-First Century Fox Inc , jointly owned a sports marketing venture, T&T Sports Marketing Ltd, according to Burzaco.

Fox, Televisa and Globo were not charged by U.S. prosecutors in the case.

Televisa spokesman Olmos Cruz Alejandro said the company could not comment without knowing more about the trial testimony. Fox Sports spokeswoman Terri Hines said the company had no immediate comment.

Globo denied the allegations and said its internal checks did not find any illegal payments.

Prosecutors also showed jurors a contract dated 2008 between T&T and a Turks and Caicos-based entity called Somerton Corp, providing for a $3.7 million payment to Somerton.

Burzaco said the contract was signed by James Ganley, former chief operating officer of Fox affiliate Fox Pan American Sports, and was a cover for bribes to people including former Argentine Football Association president and FIFA executive Julio Humberto Grondona, who died in 2014.


Ganley is named as a defendant in a 2016 civil lawsuit in a Florida federal court by Florida-based soccer network GolTV, which claims that Ganley and others paid bribes for broadcast rights. Lawyers representing Ganley in that lawsuit could not be reached for comment.

The three soccer officials on trial in Brooklyn are Juan Ángel Napout, former president of the South American soccer governing body CONMEBOL and Paraguay's soccer federation; Manuel Burga, former president of Peru's soccer federation; and José Maria Marin, former president of Brazil's soccer federation. [L1N1NJ1FN] Prosecutors claim the three accepted bribes in exchange for the award of rights to soccer tournaments.

Burzaco told jurors that he helped arrange bribes paid to all three defendants, though his testimony went far beyond that, describing corruption throughout international soccer.

He said Grondona and two other South American soccer officials on FIFA's executive committee, Nicolas Leoz and Ricardo Teixeira, were bribed to vote for Qatar to host the 2022 World Cup.

After Qatar came up short in the first rounds of voting, Grondona and Teixeira cornered Leoz in a restroom, Burzaco said.

“They shake him out and say, ‘What the hell are you doing? Are you the one not voting?’” he said, adding that Qatar was voted host of the 2022 World Cup after the encounter.

Leoz, who once led the South American soccer association CONMEBOL, and Teixeira, who led Brazil's soccer federation, are among the 42 people and entities charged by the United States, but are not in U.S. custody.

(Reporting by Brendan Pierson in New York, additional reporting by Tatiana Ramil in Sao Paulo; Editing by Bill Trott and Tom Brown)

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