As the World Cup reaches its climax in Russia this week, a bribery scandal from Cup qualifying matches in Central America and the Caribbean involving the U.S. arm of Spain’s Imagina Group has also reached a resolution.
Prosecutors and the company reached a deal under which the European media conglomerate’s U.S. arm agreed to plead guilty to two counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. In announcing the agreement, the parent company maintained that the U.S. arm, formerly known as MediaWorld, is “not an active contracting entity.” Imagina said it will pay nearly $12.9 million in fines, return $6.65 million to affected soccer federations and forfeit $5.3 million in profits linked to the scam, but would face no further charges.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York has been investigating the matter since learning in 2015 about allegations of improper payments. The payments went to secure media and marketing rights to certain World Cup soccer qualifying matches in Central American and the Caribbean. The company sought to manipulate the matchups of teams and countries in order to create the most compelling viewing, which it could then profit from as the rights holder.
In announcing the agreement, Imagina affirmed its “extensive cooperation” with the DOJ. “Imagina is committed to the highest ethical standards and strict compliance with the laws of all jurisdictions in which it operates,” the company said. “Since learning of these issues more than two and a half years ago, Imagina has taken significant steps to address this isolated misconduct as well as to strengthen and improve compliance and oversight across its global operations.”
In December 2015 the DOJ said it was investigating after guilty pleas by Roger Huguet and Fabio Tordin, former executives at the company’s U.S. affiliate. Prosecutors also alleged that a former senior executive of the company was involved. According to Imagina, all three employees have been terminated and have had no role in the company since the investigation was revealed.
An internal investigation by the company found that the misconduct was limited to the actions of the three former execs. The company said none of the activities of Imagina Group’s other global sports rights, production, or content business lines in more than 30 countries were implicated, nor were the production or content units of its U.S. operations.
The company will continue to implement compliance and ethics controls and procedures that it has
voluntarily put into place over the past two-and-a-half years. Imagina installed new U.S. leadership in the wake of the bribery scheme and has put in place a range of new compliance and controls, leading prosecutors not to require a monitor as a condition of the agreement.