PART I: BACKGROUND & THE INDICTMENT:
FIFA (Federation Internationale de Football Association) is the international administrative governing body of arguably the world’s most beloved sport- soccer. FIFA is composed of 209-member associations, each representing organized soccer in either a particular nation or territory, including the United States and four of its overseas territories. Its primary purpose is to purportedly act as a sort of ‘watchdog’ when there are allegations of impropriety, as well as helping set the rules of the game. In early 2015, FIFA’s integrity as a governing body was called into question when it found itself entangled in a scandal concerning several of its top-level executives and allegations of criminal activities such as wire fraud, money laundering, bribery, and multiple violations of the R.I.C.O. Act upon the release of a 47-count indictment by the United States Attorney General.
This is not the first time that FIFA executives had been accused of foul play. In 2010, Qatar’s winning bid for the host of the World Cup in 2022 sparked suspicions that subsequently led to an internal investigation by FIFA’s Ethic’s Committee, spear headed by U.S. Attorney Michael Garcia as lead prosecutor accompanied by German Judge Hans Joachin-Eckert. Upon conclusion of the investigation, Attorney Garcia submitted a 430-page report that was ultimately blocked by the Ethics Committee in favor of Judge Eckert’s report that cleared the suspected parties of all wrongdoing. This caused Garcia to resign in protest stating that the condensed report “contained numerous materially incomplete and erroneous representations of facts and conclusions.” After the release of the U.S. indictment and a news leak by a German newspaper in 2017, FIFA eventually released Garcia’s report in full.
Even though Eckert’s judgment cleared FIFA officials of any wrong doing, the choice to release Eckert’s opinion and not Garcia’s report seemed to have the reverse effect of what FIFA had initially hoped.
On May 27, 2015, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch released a 47-count; 164-page indictment against 14 former FIFA executives, associated business persons, and affiliated federations, both domestically and internationally. It accuses various individuals and corporations with racketeering, conspiracy to engage in racketeering, criminal forfeiture, tax fraud, unlawful procurement of naturalization, wire fraud, money laundering, and obstruction of justice, among other related charges that span nearly three decades.
This indictment came after a nearly three-year investigation by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) beginning in 2012. A key collaborator of the investigation is former CONCACAF general secretary and FIFA executive, Chuck Blazer, whom had pled guilty to similar charges prior to the release of the indictment. Following the indictment release and in conjunction with U.S. authorities, 12 plain-clothed Swiss police officers descended on the Baur au Lac hotel in Switzerland, where several FIFA officials were arrested and extradited to the United States on suspicion of receiving millions of dollars in bribes. They were preparing to attend FIFA’s annual congressional meeting scheduled to take place in Zurich. These arrests triggered subsequent criminal investigations by Swiss authorities into top FIFA officials for corruption.
While investigations as of this writing are still on going, a few months after the initial Zurich raid in 2015, Swiss authorities are reportedly looking into 53 possible cases of money laundering and 104 incidents of suspicious activity involving Swiss Banks. Further, as of 2017, FIFA sent in 1,300 pages of an internal investigation reports into suspected bribery and corruption that concern a 22-month probe performed by a U.S. based law firm. Swiss authorities are said to have examined at least 172 suspected money-laundering transactions through Swiss banks.
The corruption unearthed by U.S. and Swiss authorities in 2015 regarding FIFA is not only multifaceted, but complicated and far reaching. For this reason, the next installment of this blog will focus on the indictment itself as a separate case (United States v. Jeffery Webb, et al) and two on-going derivative cases United States v. Napout, et al and United States v. Jose Hawilla, et al.
Question to Readers: Any predictions for the outcomes of the cases? Tune in next week where the second installment will dive into nitty gritty of pending litigation as well as the outcome of one jury trial.
Contributor Bio: Kathryn Boyle is in her last semester of law school at New England Law | Boston. Ms. Boyle’s interest lies in the intersection of sports, law, and business ethics. Post-graduation she aspires to practice as an employment and/or labor attorney for player associations in professional sports. (Twitter: @kayteboyle).