Mexican media giant sued over alleged World Cup bribes

Mexican media giant sued over alleged World Cup bribes
© Greg Nash
The world's largest Spanish-language media conglomerate was sued Tuesday in a New York federal court for allegedly paying millions of dollars in bribes to obtain broadcast rights for the FIFA World Cup.
 
Stockholders on Tuesday sued Mexico City-based Televisa, alleging it paid bribes for rights to the 2018, 2022, 2026 and 2030 editions of the world soccer tournament.
 
ADVERTISEMENT
The complaint also alleged that Televisa has "cooked its books for years" to hide the fact that it was paying bribes.
 
Televisa allegedly conspired in early 2013 with an Argentine company, Torneos y Competencias, to secure the rights through bribes to Julio Grondona, a vice president of FIFA, the world soccer governing body.
 
The lawsuit alleges that Televisa paid Torneos y Competencias $7.5 million through a wholly owned Swiss subsidiary, Mountrigi Management Group. The Argentine company allegedly paid Grondona, who died in 2014, $15 million in bribes to secure the rights for Televisa and Brazilian broadcaster Teleglobo.
 
The broadcast rights to the World Cup are hotly contested and highly profitable. According to the lawsuit, an estimated 3.4 billion people tuned in worldwide to watch the 2018 edition.
 
Televisa, a publicly traded company on the NYSE, has taken a hit in ratings and market share over the past decade.
 
Former Televisa CEO Emilio Azcarraga III, named as a co-defendant in the complaint, resigned in January, citing slow ad sales and increased competition from digital content providers.
 
The complaint says Azcarraga resigned "literally within hours of the publication" of a New York Times exposé of Mountrigi.
 
The suit alleges that Azcarraga and former CFO Salvi Rafael Folch Viadero, also a co-defendant, "knew or recklessly disregarded that millions of dollars were being siphoned off through the exploitation of undisclosed weaknesses in the Company’s internal controls over financial reporting."
 
"Investors have lost hundreds of millions of dollars since it was revealed that Televisa obtained its coveted World Cup media rights through bribes rather than through fair play," reads the complaint.
 
The lawsuit is the latest chapter in a U.S.-led investigation on corruption in world soccer. 
 
The allegations against Televisa and its top executives are based on witness testimony from Alejandro Burzaco, the former CEO of Torneos y Competencias.
 
Burzaco cut a deal with U.S. investigators and pleaded guilty to paying millions in bribes in 2015, and was the prosecution's star witness in a related 2017 trial in Brooklyn.
 
According to the suit, Burzaco's testimony and ledgers presented in court prove Televisa's involvement in the $15 million bribe.
 
In a statement to BuzzFeed News, Televisa said "the points made in the document have no legal foundation, and also contain important errors of fact." 
 
"Using independent lawyers, Televisa conducted a detailed investigation that concluded that no activity related to corrupt practices had taken place," reads the statement.