June 08, 2015 Practice Points

FIFA Officials Indicted in Wide-Ranging Bribery Conspiracy

The organization allegedly committed a foul, was issued a red card.

By Joseph W. Martini – June 8, 2015

The soccer world was jolted by the May 27, 2015, indictment of nine current and former officials at FIFA, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association, most notable for the World Cup. The United States is seeking extradition of seven of the defendants, who were arrested at a five-star hotel in Zurich, Switzerland.

The indictment was issued by a grand jury in the Eastern District of New York on May 20, 2015, and unsealed after the Swiss arrests on May 27. In addition to the nine FIFA officials, the indictment includes charges against five marketing executives. Four officials and two corporations previously pleaded guilty under seal.

FIFA is an entirely legitimate enterprise and according to the indictment had revenue of $5.7 billion dollars, 70 percent of which came from the sale of television and marketing rights, between 2011 and 2014. During the same period, FIFA posted a $338 million profit and spent over $1 billion to develop soccer programs in member countries.

The indictment implicates 25 coconspirators and alleges that two generations of FIFA officials have accepted over $150 million in bribes relating to the highly lucrative media and marketing rights. The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act racketeering charges in the indictment describe an enterprise that sounds more like organized crime than sports.

The U.S. case alleges corruption in the selection process for the World Cup, and Switzerland has opened its own investigation. Countries covet the right to host a World Cup because of the prestige and income that is associated with the event, but the indictment describes how one defendant shopped his vote for host of the 2010 World Cup. He flew to Morocco because of a $1 million offer but accepted a sweeter $10 million deal to vote for South Africa.

The sweeping 160-page indictment includes 47 counts against the various defendants. The counts include racketeering under 18 U.S.C. §§ 1962(d) and 1963 for conduct including wire fraud, money laundering, and obstruction of justice under federal law and bribery under the New York state law. There are numerous counts for wire fraud, money laundering, obstruction of justice, and aiding in the preparation of false tax returns. In addition, one defendant is charged with unlawful procurement of naturalization and faces revocation of his citizenship. The indictment also seeks forfeitures of property from the defendants.

Four FIFA officials waived indictment and have already pleaded guilty. The charges include charges similar to those in the indictment, structuring of financial transactions, income tax evasion, and failure to file a Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBAR). These individuals have already agreed to forfeit $154 million, which is being held in reserve to ensure any restitution can be provided to victims. The RICO charges are the most serious and expose the defendants to 20 years’ imprisonment. U.S. District Court Judge Raymond J. Dearie has been assigned the case.

The Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs and Organized Crime and Gang Section is assisting the prosecution team, and the government investigation is ongoing. For years, officials within FIFA have been accused of corruption but avoided prosecution so one could expect the scope of the allegations to expand as the investigation proceeds. Sepp Blatter, the long-time president of FIFA, was not named in the indictment, and won reelection as FIFA president even after the indictment was released. He later decided to resign, however.

Joseph W. Martini, Wiggin and Dana LLP, Stamford, CT

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