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May 28, 2015 Practice Points

FIFA Officials and Executives Given the Red Card

By Joshua Sato

On May 27, 2015, a number of FIFA officials were arrested in Zurich by Swiss authorities and are expected to be extradited to the United States. American officials announced a wide-ranging indictment against 14 soccer officials and marketing executives involving decades of allegedly receiving bribes. According to the New York Times, FIFA was described "in terms normally reserved for Mafia families or drug cartels, and brought charges under racketeering laws usually applied to such criminal organizations."

Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch stated that "these individuals and organizations engaged in bribery to decide who would televise games, where the games would be held, and who would run the organization overseeing organized soccer worldwide." The federal indictment lists 47 counts which include bribery, fraud, and money laundering. Bribes for FIFA officials were given through surreptitious means such as fake consulting contracts and shell companies or actual briefcases of money. Bribes seemingly touched every facet of FIFA decision-making, with the selection of the 2018 World Cup in Russia and the 2022 World Cup in Qatar receiving prominent scrutiny.

The Department of Justice investigation was greatly aided by former FIFA executive Chuck Blazer, who pleaded guilty to multiple charges in federal court in 2013. Blazer agreed to become a wire-wearing informant and provided documents and recordings of meetings with FIFA officials.

Although FIFA president Sepp Blatter, who is running for reelection in a vote scheduled to occur on Friday, May 29th, was not among the arrested officials, it is widely speculated that he is at significant legal risk. The DOJ investigation could turn up sufficient evidence to indict Blatter, and the arrested officials could potentially make a plea bargain and testify against Blatter.

Keywords: minority trial lawyer, litigation, FIFA, organized crime, bribe, fraud, money laundering, racketeering, Chuck Blazer

Joshua Sato is with Milbank in New York, New York.

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