Hernan Lopez, the founder and chief executive of the podcast studio Wondery, has been charged by federal prosecutors with allegedly paying bribes to secure World Cup rights for his former employer, 21st Century Fox. In an indictment unsealed Monday in Brooklyn, NY, prosecutors said Lopez and fellow Fox executive Carlos Martinez paid millions of dollars in bribes to the Confederación Sudamericana de Fútbol – the organization governing soccer in South America – in order to secure the lucrative broadcasting rights to the Copa Libertadores, the region’s most popular club tournament, among other events. The indictment also alleges the Fox executives relied on loyalty secured through the payment of bribes 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 U.S. Fox ultimately secured those rights.
A 53-count indictment charges Lopez and Martinez with wire fraud, money laundering and related offenses. The men are scheduled for arraignment in federal court in Brooklyn on Thursday (April 9). Each of the offenses carries a maximum of 20 years of prison time, and, if convicted, each defendant faces mandatory restitution, forfeiture and fines.
United States Attorney Richard Donoghue said the charges were part of his office’s ongoing effort to root out corruption at the highest levels of international soccer and at the businesses engaged in promoting and broadcasting the sport. The investigation also included the FBI and IRS, which alleged the scheme 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.
FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge William Sweeney noted the bribes allegedly paid by the former Fox executives came after the first soccer-related charges were brought in 2015. “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,” Sweeney said.
An attorney representing Lopez said in a statement that the government has overcharged the 49-year-old media executive. “It’s shocking that the government would bring such a thin case,” said Matthew Umhofer. “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.”
The indictment also named Gerard Romy, former co-CEO of Imagina Media Audiovisual SL, a Barcelona media company, and Full Play Group, a Buenos Aires-based sports marketing company. Both also face a 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, also includes additional charges against certain defendants located overseas who were previously indicted and have yet to be extradited to the U.S.