In context

Switzerland and United States investigate FIFA

July 8, 2015
In context

Swiss authorities recently arrested seven FIFA officials in Zurich and seized over nine terabytes of data at the FIFA head-office. In the US, the FBI raided the office of the CONCACAF, the continental football association affiliated with FIFA. On the same day, the US Attorney General presented an indictment charging a number of people, mostly FIFA officials, with corruption. All of these events were part of two separate investigations, one in Switzerland and the other in the US. The Swiss investigation concerns irregularities in the selection process for the FIFA World Cup 2018 and 2022, whereas the US investigation investigates alleged bribes paid to secure commercial deals for sportswear companies, media and marketing rights, votes for the FIFA Presidential election in 2011, and votes for the selection for the host country for the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Dutch financial institutions and service providers have also been affected by the investigations. This development shows once more the breadth of current international corruption investigations.

US investigation
The investigation can be traced back to an FBI investigation into a senior FIFA and CONCACAF official in 2011. This official reportedly cooperated with the FBI’s investigation, which led the authorities to investigate corruption in FIFA’s upper echelons. This eventually led to the release of the indictment on 27 May 2015, which includes charges of racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering conspiracies. The guilty pleas of four individual defendants and two corporate defendants were unsealed that same day.


A total of 14 people were indicted, including nine FIFA officials and five corporate executives. According to the indictment, the bribes and kickbacks received by the FIFA officials are estimated to amount to over USD 150 million and were paid to secure commercial deals for sportswear companies, media and marketing rights, votes for the FIFA Presidential election in 2011 and votes for the selection for the host country for the 2010 World Cup.


The US appears to have taken an interest in this case as the alleged FIFA bribery scheme involves three defendants who are US citizens; various of the regional soccer associations implicated have offices in the US; several of the intermediate sports marketing companies have headquarters, offices or affiliates in the US; the indictment contains several allegations concerning phone calls from the US and in-person meetings in the US to carry out the alleged bribery scheme, and use of US-based bank accounts. This last element features prominently in the indictment under the chapter “The Centrality of the US Financial System”.


US officials did not participate in the arrests in Zurich nor in the seizure of documents at the FIFA headquarters on 27 May 2015.


Swiss investigation
In March 2015, Swiss authorities launched a criminal investigation into criminal mismanagement and money laundering related to the selection process of the FIFA World Cup of 2018 and 2022, after a criminal complaint was filed by FIFA in late 2014. FIFA filed the complaint following an internal investigation, of which a report was handed to Swiss authorities. Jurisdiction appears to be based on the fact that FIFA’s headquarters are in Switzerland and that the unjust enrichment following from the alleged irregularities is suspected to have taken place in Switzerland as well as the use of Swiss bank accounts.


On 27 May 2015, the Swiss Office of the Attorney General (OAG) seized documents at FIFA headquarters as part of a “collection of evidence on cooperative basis”. In addition, a press release from the OAG announced that 10 persons who took part in voting on the allocation of the 2018 and 2022 FIFA World Cup as members of the FIFA executive committee in 2010 will be questioned.


In a press statement on 17 June 2015, the OAG clarified the relation between the two investigations, stating that, contrary to the US investigation, the Swiss investigation is being conducted in cooperation with FIFA. The OAG also stressed that the Swiss and US authorities are not conducting any joint investigations, but are coordinating their respective criminal proceedings. The Swiss authorities emphasised the fact that the documents and data of the Swiss investigation will not be shared automatically with the US, and that potential exchange of information will have to “respect the binding rules of mutual legal assistance”.

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