A New York federal judge tossed a conviction of former 21st Century Fox executive and Wondery podcast startup founder Hernan Lopez on Friday night. Lopez was convicted earlier this year of bribing FIFA soccer officials with millions of dollars in exchange for lucrative media and marketing rights to international tournaments and events, including the World Cup.
Lopez was charged alongside Carlos Martinez, another Fox executive, with wire fraud and money laundering and was accused of using shell companies and sham consulting contracts to conceal or disguise bribes and kickback payments. Prosecutors had said that the bribes helped them obtain confidential bidding information, as well as bringing the U.S. broadcasting rights to Fox for the 2018 and 2022 World Cup competitions.
Martinez was acquitted at trial, but Lopez was convicted in March.
U.S. District Judge Pamela K. Chen granted a motion of acquittal, citing a recent Supreme Court decision on wire fraud and the lack of precedent for foreign commercial bribery.
“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,” Chen wrote in her ruling, “and that therefore the evidence at trial was insufficient to sustain defendants’ convictions under that statute.”
David Sarratt, a lawyer for Lopez, told the Associated Press, “We are obviously pleased with Judge Chen’s thorough and correct decision. We have never stopped believing in our client’s innocence.”
Lopez founded the podcast startup Wondery, which he exited when he sold the company to Amazon in 2021.