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 By Reuters

U.S.-based unit of Spanish media group Imagina pleads guilty to bribery, fined $24m

NEW YORK -- A Florida-based unit of the Spanish sports media group Imagina on Tuesday pleaded guilty to charges of bribing Latin American football officials and was ordered to pay over $24 million, the latest penalty imposed in the sprawling U.S. investigation into corruption at world football's governing body FIFA.

At a hearing before U.S. District Judge Pamela Chen, US Imagina LLC general counsel Erika Lucas said that beginning around 2008, the company paid officials of the national football federations of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras and of the Caribbean Football Union (CFU). She said the company paid the bribes to secure media and marketing rights to qualifying matches for the 2014, 2018 and 2022 World Cups.

Lucas also said that in 2012, Roger Huguet, a US Imagina executive, entered into an agreement with sports marketing company Traffic Group to split the cost of a bribe to Jeffrey Webb, then president of CONCACAF, which governs football in North and Central America and the Caribbean. Lucas entered a plea on behalf of the company to two counts of wire fraud conspiracy.

Chen ordered the company to pay a criminal fine of about $12.9m, pay restitution to the football federations and CFU totaling about $6.6m and to forfeit about $5.3m in criminal proceeds.

The fine will be paid by the Spanish parent company, which has entered into an agreement to avoid prosecution, according to the office of U.S. Attorney Richard Donoghue.

Under its plea deal with prosecutors, the company has agreed not to appeal the judgment. A spokesman for Imagina had no immediate comment on the deal.

"Corporations that operate in the United States have a responsibility to ensure that their officers do not engage in corrupt conduct and to take steps to root out corrupt conduct as soon as they are put on notice of it," Donoghue said in a statement after the plea hearing.

Huguet and another executive at the company, Fabio Tordin, had pleaded guilty to U.S. charges in 2015.

Imagina is one of more than 40 entities and individuals charged by U.S. prosecutors in connection with the FIFA probe. The investigation has yielded more than two dozen guilty pleas and one trial of three former football officials, two of whom were found guilty by a jury.

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