On Wednesday 17th May 2015, the US attorney general, Loretta Lynch, announced 47 counts of charges of racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering against nine FIFA officials and five sports business executives, alleging “rampant, systemic and deep-rooted” corruption.
Those accused are said to have been involved in corrupt practices dating back to 1991, particularly bribery amounting to more than $150m involving sports marketing firms trying to exclude competitors from tournament contracts, including the World Cup.
The US investigation appears to have emanated from an internal tax investigation into US citizen and senior FIFA official, Chuck Blazer, over unpaid tax relating to commissions he had received. Blazer subsequently cooperated with the FBI and their investigation widened significantly. Most of the schemes alleged in the US Department of Justice indictment relate to allegations involving CONCACAF (the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football) and CONMEBOL (the South American Federation).
The arrests of seven of these individuals in Zurich on Wednesday was effected by the Swiss authorities, acting though a mutual legal assistance request from the US.
The US jurisdiction appears to stem, according to the indictment, from a number of factors including:
(i) that FIFA and its various Confederations frequently engaged in banking and investment activities with US financial institutions;
(ii) FIFA maintained a development office in the US and CONCACAF had its principal administrative offices in the US;
(iii) The sports marketing companies included entities with offices in the US, and in certain cases sold media rights to networks in the US;
(iv) those suspected of involvement in the illicit activity relied heavily on the US financial system;
(v) some of those arrested are US citizens.
This case serves as a powerful reminder of the global reach of the US justice system.