The United States is pursuing corruption charges against 14 current and former officials from FIFA, the global governing body for international soccer, federal prosecutorsannounced Wednesday.
There is some irony in the fact that this case is being brought by US federal prosecutors. The United States is famously uninterested in soccer, which lags behind (American) football, basketball, and baseball in popularity. So what’s this case doing in a Brooklyn court?
Part of the explanation is that many US federal laws have a global sweep — especially those that involve financial wrongdoing. As long as there is some “nexus” with the US to provide jurisdiction, such as the involvement of a US financial institution or a US citizen, then US attorneys often can and do prosecute wrongdoing that took place primarily overseas. For instance, in 2014 former Guatemalan president Alfonso Portillo was sentenced to six years in US federal prison for laundering money through US banks. The corruption at the core of the case took place in Guatemala — Portillo was accused of using the office of the president as his “personal ATM” — but the nexus with US banks was enough for him to be prosecuted by US courts.
That’s why the indictment focuses so much on what it refers to as the “centrality of the US financial system” to the alleged crimes: the use of US financial institutions gives prosecutors jurisdiction to prosecute the cases.
But the FIFA case actually has much stronger connections to the United States than one might have guessed.
The New York Times reports that the indictment was built on information obtained from former FIFA executive Chuck Blazer — a US citizen. Blazer, who was the general secretary of CONCACAF, the regional organization governing soccer in North America, Central America, and the Caribbean, secretly pleaded guilty in 2013 to charges including wire fraud, racketeering, money laundering, and tax evasion. Bloomberg describes him as a “former Westchester soccer dad.” Several other defendants are US citizens. And one of the corporate entities that already pleaded guilty is a US company, Traffic Sports USA.
CONCACAF has its principal administrative office is in Miami. And soccer is growingmore popular in the US, which has raised the value of the marketing rights that were obtained through bribes.
In other words, this isn’t just a case of a federal prosecutor aggressively targeting conduct overseas. This is a case in which US individuals and a US company conspired to commit crimes with foreign co-conspirators, using US financial institutions, in order to exploit US and foreign markets. Viewed through that lens, it’s not surprising that the Justice Department decided that this was a good use of US federal resources.