(adds lawyer’s comment to full play, paragraph 8)
by Jonathan Stempel
NEW YORK, Sept 2 (Reuters) – A US judge has dismissed the convictions of a former Fox executive and an Argentine sports marketing company for attempting to bribe soccer officials in exchange for lucrative broadcast contracts.
In Friday night’s ruling, U.S. District Judge Pamela Chen in Brooklyn said the March 9 conviction of Hernan Lopez and Full Play Group could not be upheld because the federal law governing Honest Services’ wire fraud includes foreign commercial bribery. Not there.
He said the US Supreme Court’s decision on May 11 to dismiss the unrelated corruption conviction of Joseph Perocco, a one-time aide to former New York governor Andrew Cuomo, had imposed new limits on enforcement of the anti-fraud law.
“No appeal by the Government to common law, state law, civil law, foreign law, or codes of conduct takes away from the basic fact that there is no precedent to support the application of this federal criminal law to foreign commercial bribery.” There is no authority,’” Chen wrote in the 55-page decision.
The judge also vacated Lopez’s and Full Play’s money laundering convictions because they were based on the fraud convictions.
A spokesman for US Attorney Brian Peace in Brooklyn said Saturday that the office is reviewing the decision.
Lopez’s attorney, David Sarratt, said: “We are clearly pleased with Judge Chen’s thorough and correct ruling. We have never ceased to believe in our client’s innocence.”
Full Play’s attorney, Carlos Ortiz, said his client was grateful for the decision. “We very much appreciate the court’s full confirmation,” Ortiz said.
López and Full Play were among more than 40 defendants to be criminally charged since the US Justice Department in 2015 revealed a wide-ranging investigation into football corruption involving the sport’s world governing body FIFA.
At least 31 people and corporate entities pleaded guilty in a 2017 jury trial, and two football officials were convicted.
Prosecutors said Lopez, a former chief executive of Fox International Channels, had planned to bribe officials of CONMEBOL, the South American soccer federation, to win the rights to that continent’s most popular club tournament, the Copa Libertadores.
Full Play was accused of planning to bribe officials of CONMEBOL and the North American federation CONCACAF to win the media and marketing rights to Copa Libertadores and World Cup qualifying matches.
Co-defendant, Carlos Martinez, former president of Fox International Channels Latin America, was acquitted.
The case relied heavily on the testimony of Alejandro Burzaco, the former head of Argentine sports marketing firm Torneos, who pleaded guilty in 2015 and cooperated with prosecutors. Chen sentenced him to time served in May, which meant no jail time. (Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)