Rupert Murdoch’s Fox Sports paid million-dollar bribes to high-ranking FIFA officials to secure lucrative broadcast rights for major football tournaments, a New York jury has been told.
Alejandro Burzaco, a former CEO of Argentinian sports marketing firm, Torneos y Competencias, testified at a US corruption trial on Tuesday (local time) that Fox Sports and four South American companies with which he partnered had bribed officials to win rights for the Copa America and other events.
At the trial of three former FIFA executives charged with accepting bribes and corruption, Burzaco produced what he called a “sham” $3.7 million ($4.8 million) contract from 2008 that was used as a cover for bribes, Bloomberg report.
He said “Fox Pan American Sports, Fox Sports” were kept informed about the arrangements.
The payment was sent to a holding company in the Turks and Caicos islands and reportedly signed by a former Fox executive, according to AP.
When asked what Fox Sports hoped to gain by winning the broadcast rights, Bloomberg reported Burzaco saying: “Using the TV rights to expand its Fox signal in all of the Americas from Argentina to the USA.”
Through bribes, the network “gained leverage and rights to broadcast its signal to Argentina”, he added.
Fox Sports has since denied any involvement in bribery, claiming Burzaco’s company was a subsidiary of Fox Pan American Sports, which at the time was under the control of a private-equity firm, Associated Press reported.
“Any suggestion that Fox Sports knew of or approved of any bribes is emphatically false,” the statement read.
“Fox Sports had no operational control of the entity which Burzaco ran.”
The hearing is part of a widespread investigation into endemic corruption at FIFA, which has resulted in more than 40 criminal charges against football and marketing executives.
Burzaco, who already pleaded guilty to racketeering, wire fraud and money-laundering conspiracies in 2015, told the court he regularly paid six-figure bribes, primarily to six senior officials of the South American governing body, Conmebol.
Burzaco has proven to be a key witness against former South American officials Jose Maria Marin, Manuel Burga and Juan Angel Napout.
On the second day of the trial, he described a series of meetings at hotel and restaurants in Buenos Aires in 2012, where he helped strike deals with the former officials, AP reports.
The former representatives are the first to face trial as part of a 24-year investigation involving at least $US150 million ($198 million) in bribes being accepted in the sport.
Marin, the former president of Brazil’s football federation, Burga, former president of Peru’s federation and Napout, former head of Paraguay’s federation, all have pleaded not guilty.
The claims refer to Fox Sports in the US, not News Corp’s Australian sports channel.