U.S. government witness in FIFA trial says media companies paid bribes

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A prosecution witness in the U.S. corruption trial of three former soccer officials testified on Tuesday that Fox Sports, Mexico’s Grupo Televisa and Brazil’s Globo paid bribes to secure television rights for soccer matches.

FILE PICTURE: Businessman Alejandro Burzaco (L) of Argentina arrives at the Federal Court in Brooklyn, New York, September 18, 2015. REUTERS/John Taggart

The testimony came during the first trial to emerge from the U.S. investigation of bribery surrounding FIFA, soccer’s world governing body.

Alejandro Burzaco, former head of sports marketing company Torneos y Competencias, named the companies while being questioned by a prosecutor in Brooklyn federal court. Torneos and Fox Sports, a unit of Twenty-First Century Fox Inc, jointly owned a sports marketing venture, T&T Sports Marketing Ltd, according to Burzaco.

Fox, Televisa and Globo were not charged by U.S. prosecutors in the case.

Televisa spokesman Olmos Cruz Alejandro said the company could not comment without knowing more about the trial testimony. Fox Sports spokeswoman Terri Hines said the company had no immediate comment.

Globo denied the allegations and said its internal checks did not find any illegal payments.

Burzaco said in court that Fox was told about bribes paid to soccer officials by T&T.

Prosecutors also showed jurors a contract dated 2008 between T&T and a Turks and Caicos-based entity called Somerton Corp, providing for a $3.7 million payment to Somerton.

Burzaco said the contract was signed by James Ganley, former chief operating officer of Fox unit Fox Pan American Sports, and was a sham meant to cover bribes to people including former Argentine Football Association president and FIFA executive Julio Humberto Grondona, who died in 2014.

Ganley is named as a defendant in a 2016 civil lawsuit in a Florida federal court by Florida-based soccer network GolTV, which claims that Ganley and other Fox executives paid bribes for broadcast rights. Lawyers representing Ganley in that lawsuit could not immediately be reached for comment.

Shares of Twenty First Century Fox were down 2.3 percent at $27.88 in afternoon NYSE trading.

The three soccer officials on trial in Brooklyn are Juan Ángel Napout, former president of the South American soccer governing body CONMEBOL and Paraguay’s soccer federation; Manuel Burga, former president of Peru’s soccer federation; and José Maria Marin, former president of Brazil’s soccer federation.

Prosecutors have said that the three men and other soccer officials took bribes from sports marketing companies in exchange for lucrative marketing and media rights to soccer tournaments. Forty-two people and entities have been charged in the case, of which 23 have pleaded guilty and two have been sentenced.

(This version of the story corrects the spelling of Terri Hines, from Hynes, in paragraph 5)

Reporting by Brendan Pierson in New York, additional reporting by Tatiana Ramil in Sao Paulo; Editing by Bill Trott and Tom Brown