Two FIFAgate bribery convictions thrown out by FIFA-hanging Judge Chen

September 4 – Two convictions of a media executive and rights company in FIFAgate have been vacated by US federal judge Pamela Chen citing a recent Supreme Court ruling.

In a major U-turn by Judge Chen, who presided over the original FIFAgate case, Hernan Lopez, a former executive with 21st Century Fox, and Argentine sports marketing firm Full Play were acquitted on appeal.

López faced up to 40 years in prison and millions of dollars in penalties, but his appeals as well as that of Full Play, who faced millions of dollars of fines, were granted because of doubts about whether United States’ crucial wire fraud legislation applies to foreign business transactions.

Chen’s ruling follows new Supreme Court rulings, clarifying the relevant legislation. The Supreme Court overturned the wire fraud conviction of Joseph Percoco, a former aide to former New York City governor Andrew Cuomo, on the grounds that the jury instructions had been too vague.

Chen wrote in her decision that “The Supreme Court’s latest wire fraud decisions – especially Percoco – and the absence of precedent applying honest services wire fraud to foreign commercial bribery, requires this court to find that [the statute] does not criminalise the conduct alleged in this case and that therefore the evidence at trial was insufficient to sustain defendants’ convictions under that statute.” 

Chen’s new decision will likely create legal uncertainty and lead to new appeals against sentences handed down – many of which have now been served – and counterclaims against the US justice system? That in itself could cause a potential problem for FIFA who has taken reparation money from the US Justice Department – a sum that will eventually amount to $200 million.

It also could mean that Jack Warner, who has long fought extradition from his native Trinidad and Tobago, may become of less interest to US authorities. He has already been convicted in his absence.

In May 2015, FIFAGate rocked world football when seven senior football executives were detained in Zurich at the Baur Au Lac hotel by the FBI who were granted access to make the arrests in Switzerland at the request of the United States Department of Justice.

The first seven indicted were joined by more than 40 other FIFA or FIFA-related executives who were charged with bribery, fraud and money laundering over the awarding of lucrative TV rights to the World Cup and major Latin American competitions and Concacaf competitions. The scandal made FIFA a pariah and ultimately led to the downfall of Joseph Blatter, who had led the world federation as its president since 1998 and who before that had been FIFA’s general secretary for 17 years. 

Judge Chen’s ruling also raises questions over what happens to former Concacaf president Jeff Webb, who pleaded guilty but has had his sentencing postponed 15 times.

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