By Paul Nicholson
November 15 – The depth of the corruption around the sale of TV rights that has plagued South and North America and shattered the reputations of football officials worldwide, was unmasked in the federal court in Brooklyn yesterday. For the first time major broadcast networks Fox Sports (USA), and Televisa (Mexico) were dragged into the narrative alongside Brazil’s TV Globo, all of whom were accused of paying bribes for rights. Qatar’s 2022 World Cup winning bid also received a bruising.
Testimony given by Alejandro Burzaco, former executive of the Torneos y Competencias marketing agency and a witness for prosecution, surrounded Qatar’s 2022 World Cup winning bid. Julio Grondona, a FIFA senior vice-president and president of the Argentinian football association until his death in 2014, allegedly told Burzaco that he had agreed a $1 million bribe with Brazilian FA president Ricardo Teixeira in exchange for his vote. That money was paid to Grondona by his holding the money from a separate bribe for Copa America rights, paid by Burzaco, that was meant to have been shared by Teixeira.
Burzaco, speaking for over three hours, also said he paid bribes to Spain’s Media Pro as well as to two other sports marketing companies – Brazil’s Traffic Sports and Argentina’s Full Play.
The admission by Burzaco in the trial of José Maria Marin (former president of the Brazilian federation), Juan Manuel Napout (former president of Conmebol and the Paraguayan federation) and Manuel Burga (former president of the Peruvian federation), lifts the lid off murky underworld of TV rights sales for football major events.
It also once again raises questions about the way media mogul Rupert Murdoch runs his business operations, this time with a focus on US media giant Fox Sports and its relationship with FIFA. Fox has become a major media partner of FIFA holding rights for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. A deal that was done with former FIFA general secretary Jerome Valcke, himself under investigation in Switzerland on corruption charges.
Fox, in 2011, outbid ESPN and for English-speaking rights to the World Cup, paying $450 million-$500 million for the 2018 and 2022 tournaments. It also holds an option for 2026 after agreeing a shift in the 2022 tournament from Summer to Winter.
Asked why Fox would be interested in the rights to South American tournaments like the Copa Libertadores and Copa America, Burzaco replied: “Using the TV rights to expand its Fox signal in all of the Americas from Argentina to the U.S.A.”
According to Burzaco, Fox Pan American Sports bought 50% of a company named Tournaments & Traffic, jointly owned by TyC, through which rights and money were funnelled. In 2005 Fox increased its shareholding to 75%. Burzaco said the company was created to pay out £3.5 million in bribes to Conmebol officials and the court was shown a contract by former Fox Pan American Sports chief operating officer James Ganley.
A Fox Sports statement denied the company had been aware of or approved bribes, saying: “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.”
Burzaco was asked in court by prosecutor Samuel Nitze if there was anyone in the court he paid? “Juan Napout, Manuel Burga, José Maria Marin. I paid a bribe for all of them,” Burzaco replied. “For Marin, from 2012 until 2015. For Burga, from 2010 to 2013. For Napout, from 2010 and 2015.”
In unravelling the multiple bribes to multiple people, Burzaco also said that he paid Teixeira: “From 2006 to 2012, we paid US $ 600,000 per year in bank accounts indicated by him or his personal secretary, Alexandre [Silveira].
Burzaco detailed how the bribes took place after Teixeira stepped down from CBF’s presidency in 2012, saying that Teixeira had advised him to pass on what he received to current CBF president Marco Polo Del Nero.
Top of the bribe chain – and crucial to US prosecutors making the case that this is a mafia-style RICO prosecution – Burzaco said was Grondona, who managed the distribution of bribes among the directors of Conmebol.
One bribe detailed by Burzaco was for $600,000 for Copa Libertadores rights: “In April 2012, there was a meeting in Buenos Aires with Del Nero, Marin, Julio Grondona (then president of AFA) and Alexandre da Silveira, CBF secretary and myself. Ricardo Teixeira was not there, but he spoke on the telephone with Grondona to explain that he had resigned, that Marin and Del Nero would replace him and that they should have the same power he had in Conmebol. He said the $600,000 should be paid to them,” said Marin.
It seems the bribes were so many and so great that sometimes money was even left on the table. Burzaco also spoke of a $ 2 million bribe for the Copa America broadcast contract that had not been collected by Teixeira. “It was decided there that the $ 2 million would be split between Del Nero and Marin. Marin gave me a hug and gave a thank-you speech. Del Nero opened a notebook and wrote down the figures. They said they would give instructions on how they wanted the money,” Burzaco said.
Marin, Napout and Burga deny all charges against them. Del Nero, still wanted in the US, has issued a statement in Brazil denying the allegations made by Burzaco.
Burzaco was named in the original May 2015 indictments that saw seven FIFA officials and their associates arrested. Burzaco escaped arrest as he was breakfasting in his hotel when the Swiss police and FBI raided. He fled to Italy before handing himself in. he subsequently pleaded guilty and was extradited to the US. His sentencing is scheduled for 22 May 2018.
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