Two convictions in the FIFA corruption case have been overturned by a US federal judge citing a recent Supreme Court ruling. Hernan Lopez, a former executive with 21st Century Fox and Argentine sports marketing firm Full Play were found guilty in March of paying bribes and kickbacks to South American football officials in various schemes related to television and marketing rights.
The case was one of several to emerge from the 2015 probe from the US Justice Department which rocked world soccer’s governing body FIFA and continental confederations for South and North America.
The US investigation, which included raids on FIFA officials in Zurich, led to a series of arrests and trails and subsequent charges, convictions and guilty pleas.
Lopez and Full Play were found guilty on charges of wire fraud conspiracy and money laundering conspiracy in the March ruling.
Lopez faced up to 40 years in prison and millions of dollars in penalties.
Full Play — whose owners Hugo and Mariano Jinkis remain fugitives — was expected to face millions of dollars in fines.
But US district Judge Pamela Chen, in a ruling issued late on Friday, said a May Supreme Court decision, meant that the convictions for wire fraud could not stand.
The Supreme Court reversed in May a wire fraud conviction of Joseph Percoco, a former aide to former New York City governor Andrew Cuomo.
“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 criminalize the conduct alleged in this case and that therefore the evidence at trial was insufficient to sustain defendants’ convictions under that statute,” Chen wrote in her decision.
“Defendants’ convictions for money laundering, predicated on their honest services wire fraud convictions, also cannot be sustained. The court therefore grants defendants’ motions to acquit on all counts of conviction,” she added.
Before the conviction, the court had heard that the main beneficiaries of the kickback scheme were six of the most powerful men in South American football.
They included former CONMEBOL president Nicolas Leoz, who died in 2019, former Argentine football executive Julio Grondona, who died in 2014, and former Brazilian football chief Ricardo Teixeira.
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