In what can only be termed a stunning announcement, earlier this week, a 47-count indictment was unsealed in a federal court in Brooklyn, charging 14 defendants in connection with their participation in a 24-year scheme to enrich themselves through the corruption of international soccer. All of the defendants were associated with the governing body of international soccer, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA). After the indictments were unsealed the Swiss police conducted an early-morning operation in Zurich, arresting several FIFA officials and extradited them to the United States on federal corruption charges. The charges included those under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, wire fraud, money laundering, bribery, and tax evasion.

Interestingly, only one of the defendants is a U.S. citizen, and that person, Chuck Blazer, was a cooperating witness for U.S. government. Yet the indictments were brought in the United States because many of the charges against the suspects related to plots allegedly taking place on American soil. There were bribery and corruption schemes plotted and hatched in the United States, with payment made through the U.S. banking system. There was also the use of telephones and computers in the United States. All of these contacts led U.S. officials to assert jurisdiction over the defendants. The RICO claim is critical because once a criminal enterprise is established, it provides U.S. jurisdiction to all who acted to further the conspiracy, even if such acts were outside the United States. FIFA also refused to police itself or even release the internal report prepared by Michael Garcia over allegations of corruption around selection of the 2018 World Cup site in Russia and the 2022 World Cup site in Qatar.

One aspect was not too surprising—the charges brought against Jack Warner, the former head of the North American soccer federation, CONCACAF. During his tenure at FIFA, Warner has been accused of using his powerful position in the football organization to personally gain millions. He was arrested after turning himself over to Trinidad police, where this action had been anticipated for sometime, says Sunil Ramdeen, the general manager of WINTV, a local television network. While there were no domestic charges brought against Warner, he was arrested following a request from the United States to the Central Authority in Trinidad. He has been placed on TT$2.5M bail.

In effect, the U.S. action was not viewed as over-reaching, Ramdeen notes. In fact, many Trinidadians actually have complimented the authorities there on the U.S. action and have even facetiously hinted that local authorities may take a cue from the U.S enforcement actions. 

While there were no U.S. companies specifically identified in the indictments, there were allegations that bribes were paid and pocketed in connection with the sponsorship of the Brazilian national soccer team by “a major U.S. sportswear company.” That issue brings up the specter of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) for companies involved in FIFA sponsorship and marketing partnerships. While the FCPA does cover public international organizations, it states “an organization that is designated by Executive Order pursuant to section 1 of the International Organizations Immunities Act (22 U.S.C. § 288); or any other international organization that is designated by the President by Executive order for the purposes of this section, effective as of the date of publication of such order in the Federal Register.” FIFA is not such a listed organization—that does not end the analysis as national soccer federations may well be state-owned enterprises under the FCPA.