FBI and Swiss Officials Investigating FIFA – What We Know and What We Don’t

Photo courtesy: Julian Lim
Photo courtesy: Julian Lim

Huge news broke late Tuesday and throughout the day Wednesday – the FBI and Swiss investigators are going after FIFA. This is a massive story with far reaching implications for so many. This early on, it is probably worth triaging things a bit – what do we know and what do we not know at this time?

Please note that an afternoon update has been added at the bottom of the page, including some raw articles from earlier today.

First and foremost, much to the chagrin of many hoping otherwise, this does not mean that the US will get the 2022 World Cup. There is so much that would have to happen in the next year or so that it is entirely premature to consider that even a reasonable probability.

Second, this is limited in many ways to the investigating agencies and crimes committed on their soil. For example, CONCACAF having their offices in Miami allows the FBI to have jurisdiction over crimes committed there. And it is why the Swiss involvement is so important, if the alleged corruption that led to Russia and Qatar getting the 2018 and 2022 World Cups can be proved. FIFA may be an organization beyond the scope of any one country, but unlike individual countries, they do not have diplomatic immunity. And if other countries work with Switzerland and the USA, the net could get much wider.

Overall, the good news for soccer fans around the world is this – two major governments are taking the actions of FIFA very seriously, applying established laws about corruption to the actions of FIFA members.

Let’s go into a little more detail, although still at a bit of an overview level as there is so much to this story. The thing that has impressed me is the thoroughness of the FBI and US Department of Justice actions to date – namely, the work they have done with Chuck Blazer and Traffic. Already, you have convictions and guilty pleas on the books. And they are not small pieces to the FIFA puzzle. With the Swiss seizing both defendants and documents on their soil, you can see the potential domino effect already.

This, though, is where things get murky. How far can the investigations go? What legal loopholes and defenses can those accused use to slow the process down, or escape from it altogether? Which countries will cooperate, and which ones won’t? And of the ones who do, who will be effective?

Make no mistake, the people accused in this are not poor people who do not know how to defend themselves, legally. And frankly, we cannot assume that all of those accuse are in fact guilty. And it is in that murky water that the investigators and prosecutors have to swim in to get to the truth.

What we know now is that a small number of those involved have pled guilty, and that the FBI and Swiss officials are acting as if much more is ready to be uncovered and proven. What we do not know is how far it will go, and how effective it will be in addressing past corruption and curtailing future corruption.

Afternoon Update

First, here are some raw news articles about the event in case you haven’t seen them.

Department of Justice statement – http://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/nine-fifa-officials-and-five-corporate-executives-indicted-racketeering-conspiracy-and

CNN – http://www.cnn.com/2015/05/27/football/fifa-corruption-charges-justice-department/index.html

Fox Soccer – http://www.foxsports.com/soccer/story/fifa-officials-arrested-corruption-charges-face-extradition-to-usa-law-enforcement-052615

ESPN – http://www.espnfc.com/fifa-world-cup/story/2468193/fifa-officials-arrested-over-corruption-charges

Second, there have already been some repercussions. MLS and the USSF both made public statements, essentially reinforcing their belief that the integrity of the game is important. Also, the North American Soccer League has suspended Aaron Davidson, the Chairman of their Board of Governors, who was one of the named defendants. There have also been various calls to postpone the election of the new FIFA President that is currently scheduled for this Friday – not the least of which was by UEFA.

Kevin Lindstrom is a Dallas-based attorney that has worked in the soccer industry since 2005.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *