Today’s post is from Professor Bruce Bean (Michigan State University College of Law). Professor Bean, who had a diverse practice career including at various law firms and in-house counsel positions, will be leading a panel discussion about the FIFA bribery scandal at International Law Weekend at Fordham University in New York City on November 7th. (See here for more information).
FIFA, the organization controlling the world’s most popular sport, “football,” (“soccer” to those in North America), is formally known as Fédération Internationale de Football Association. FIFA is very big business. 209 national and other football associations from Andorra to Russia and the Faroe Islands to Australia make up FIFA membership. See here. In the past three decades television and other broadcast rights, plus corporate sponsorships by international brands like Nike, Coca Cola and Visa have vastly increased the resources now involved in global football and, in particular, its quadrennial world championship, the FIFA World Cup. Between 2007 to 2014 FIFA had $10 billion in revenues and, as a Swiss registered NGO, it paid no taxes on its $969 million in profits.
Perhaps the greatest player of all time, Brazil’s legendary Pelé, published My Life and the Beautiful Game in 1977. The phrase the “beautiful game” is still synonymous with football. In 2014, however, a whistleblower leaked “hundreds of millions” of FIFA documents to journalists at the London Sunday Times. Early in 2015 Heidi Blake and Jonathan Calvert published The Ugly Game: The Corruption of FIFA and the Qatari Plot to Buy the World Cup, describing a decidedly not very beautiful game.
In fact, FIFA has a decades-long, undistinguished, undisturbed history of involvement in scandals, bribery and corruption. In 2009, the Financial Action Task Force, the international anti-money laundering organization, released a report describing FIFA’s role in money-laundering, game-fixing, illegal gambling, and more. See here. Despite the great popularity of football in Europe and the rest of the world, and unending reports of FIFA corruption, no significant action had ever been taken against FIFA and its allegedly corrupt officials by a nation where football reigns supreme. In the United States, international football is a minor sport, although there is a growing number who participate. Nevertheless, on May 20, 2015 the United States Department of Justice an indictment in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York. See here. A Brooklyn Grand Jury returned the Indictment against nine current and former FIFA officials and five businessmen involved with FIFA. The release of the Indictment was coordinated with simultaneous raids and arrests by U.S. and Swiss officials at FIFA facilities in Miami and FIFA headquarters in Zurich. In addition to 14 defendants specifically charged, the Indictment refers to 25 unnamed co-conspirators.
The Indictment details $150 million in bribes paid on behalf of privately-held sports marketing companies to secure broadcast and marketing rights from FIFA for its various regional competitions and for the FIFA World Cup. The charges filed include racketeering, conspiracy, wire fraud, money laundering, obstruction of justice, tax evasion, and, in one case, the unlawful procurement of naturalization.
Shortly after the US Department of Justice intruded into the world’s most popular sport by announcing the Indictment, Russia’s President Putin declared “This is another blatant attempt to extend [U.S.] jurisdiction to other states.” See here. Offering a decidedly differing view, the Economist commented on the fact that it was the United States, where football is not that popular, that had finally taken steps regarding FIFA. “America has a long history of being tougher on white collar crime and corruption than other countries…. Most of Europe is happy [with the U.S. bringing this action], believing that FIFA has long been a cesspit of corruption in desperate need of fresh faces and reform.” See here.
Strangely, notwithstanding the fact that the U.S. has both the FCPA and the best record of prosecuting international bribery, there are no FCPA allegations in the entire 161 pages of the Indictment. Why does this year’s highest profile bribery and corruption case not include a single allegation of an FCPA violation? See this prior FCPA Professor post. FCPA charges were not eliminated because the Department of Justice suddenly decided to abandon its (over)broad view of the jurisdictional nexus required to apply U.S. law to foreigners. See here.
Rather, there are no FCPA allegations because the FIFA officials allegedly involved with the bribes the Indictment describes are not “foreign officials” as described in the FCPA. The FCPA defines the “term “foreign official” [as] any officer or employee of a foreign government or any department, agency, or instrumentality thereof, or of a public international organization….” The FCPA further provides that “’public international organization’ means any … international organization that is designated by the President by Executive order for the purposes of this section, effective as of the date of publication of such order in the Federal Register.” See here.
The current list of public international organizations includes 80 entities, ranging from the United Nations to the International Fertilizer Development Institute and the Pacific Salmon Commission. Adding FIFA by Executive Order seems logical and straight-forward. While FIFA is a private organization, it is responsible to no one and exercises extraordinary power over sovereign nations. For instance, in October 2015 FIFA banned the Kuwaiti national football team from international play because of a dispute over a Kuwaiti law. See here. In connection with the FIFA World Cup held in Brazil in 2014, FIFA insisted that Brazil exempt all twelve Brazilian World Cup venues from a 2003 national law prohibiting the sale of alcohol at football matches. As the FIFA General Secretary announced on a trip to Brazil prior to the commencement of World Cup activities, ”Alcoholic drinks are part of the FIFA World Cup, so we’re going to have them. Excuse me if I sound a bit arrogant but that’s something we won’t negotiate.” See here .
Given the supreme importance of the sport of football in most countries, the long history of scandalous allegations about FIFA and the fact that FIFA is entirely self-governing, responsible to absolutely no one outside itself, there is a strong argument that FIFA should be added to our list of international public organization.
This is not necessarily an easy task, however.
When concerns about corruption possibly related to the Salt Lake City Olympics arose in the late 1990s, three bills were introduced in Congress seeking to bring the International Olympic Committee within the FCPA. As the FCPA Professor has previously noted, “None of these bills made it out of committee.” See here.
Given that Congress has been unable to accomplish anything recently, let’s hope the President will act. He (or perhaps she in the near future) has the authority under 22 USC 288 to designate “public international organizations.” Adding FIFA to this list will finally bring the ultimate power over international football within the scope of the FCPA.