Hernan Lopez, former head of Fox International Channels and founder of podcast startup Wondery, was convicted on charges that he participated in a scheme to bribe South American soccer officials in order to secure exclusive broadcasting rights for 21st Century Fox. An attorney representing Lopez said he plans to appeal the decision.
In April 2020, federal prosecutors indicted Lopez along with another former 21st Century Fox executive, Carlos Martinez, alleging they were part of a conspiracy to pay millions of dollars annually to FIFA officials in South America between 2000-15 in exchange for broadcasting rights to the Copa Libertadores club tournament as well as confidential bidding information for U.S. broadcast rights to the 2018 and 2022 World Cup tournaments.
On Thursday, a Brooklyn jury convicted Lopez on the charges while Martinez was acquitted, Reuters reported. The jury also convicted Uruguayan sports marketing company Full Play Group for its part in the alleged scheme. 21st Century Fox, whose entertainment assets including Fox International Channels was acquired by Disney in 2019, was not accused of wrongdoing.
Lopez, 52, faces up to 40 years in prison and millions of dollars in penalties to be determined by U.S. District Court Judge Pamela Chen at his sentencing, according to prosecutors.
Lopez had pleaded not guilty to the charges and, through his lawyers, has denied any wrongdoing.
In a statement to Variety, Lopez’s attorney, John Gleeson, said, “We’re obviously disappointed with the jury’s verdict. The proceedings have involved both legal and factual errors. We look forward to vindicating our client on appeal.”
The key witness in the case was Argentine businessman Alejandro Burzaco, who testified that he paid tens of millions of dollars in bribes to FIFA officials with the cooperation of Lopez and Martinez. Lawyers for Lopez and Martinez said that Burzaco falsely testified against them in the hopes of getting a lighter sentence under a plea agreement with prosecutors; a lawyer for Burzaco denied those claims, according to the Reuters report.
“Today’s verdict is a resounding victory for justice and for soccer fans around the world,” Breon Peace, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, said in a statement. “The defendants cheated by bribing soccer officials to act in their own greedy interests rather than in the best interests of the sport. The verdict today reflects this office’s ongoing commitment to rooting out corruption at the highest levels.”
After leaving Fox, Lopez founded L.A.-based Wondery in 2016 with the mission of producing high-quality scripted and unscripted podcast entertainment. Amazon acquired Wondery, in a deal that closed in early 2021 reportedly worth around $300 million. After the acquisition, Lopez said he was leaving Wondery to focus on his Hernan Lopez Family Foundation.