September 26 – US interest in policing world football’s governing body might not be over, despite two convictions of a media executive and rights company in the FIFAgate case having been reversed by US federal judge Pamela Chen earlier this month.
Federal prosecutors in Brooklyn have filed a plan with the Second Circuit to appeal Judge Chen’s order that saw judgements against former 21st Century Fox television executive Hernan Lopez and Argentine sports marketing firm Full Play acquitted on appeal.
Chen had overturned the original judgement saying that following recent Supreme Court rulings there was sufficient doubt about whether United States’ wire fraud legislation applies to foreign business transactions.
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.”
López faced up to 40 years in prison and millions of dollars in penalties, while Full Play faced potentially crippling fines.
They had both been convicted of honest services wire fraud and money laundering arising from the U.S. Department of Justice’s multi-year pursuit of alleged corruption in FIFA and the international football media industry.
Lopez was charged alongside Fox colleague Carlos Martinez and Fully Play for allegedly running a scheme to pay bribes and kickbacks to executives of a Conmebol in exchange for broadcast rights. Prior to trial, prosecutors elected to proceed on only the conspiracy counts for honest services wire fraud and money laundering. Martinez was acquitted at trial but Full Play and Lopez were both convicted.
In May 2015, the international football world was turned upside-down 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 TV rights to the World Cup and major Latin American competitions and Concacaf competitions. The scandal turned FIFA into a sporting pariah and ultimately led to the downfall of president 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.
The Supreme Court ruling that prompted Judge Chen to overturn the convictions potentially has ramifications for a host of FIFA’s convicted former executives who would all have potential claims to have their sentences overturned.
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