The FBI raids on FIFA headquarters on 28 May 2015 sent shockwaves through football. But why was it the US and not the birthplace of football which instigated the movement?
In July 2011 the UK passed the Bribery Act 2010. In summary this meant that it became illegal for any UK citizen to pay or receive a bribe, either directly or indirectly. The 4 main new offence categories were listed as:
Offering, promising or giving a bribe to another person;
Either asking for, agreeing to receive, or accepting a bribe from another person;
Bribery of a foreign public official
Corporations failing to prevent bribery
Regarding point iv the act states that “provided the organisation is incorporated or formed in the UK, or that the organisation carries on a business or part of a business in the UK (wherever in the world it may be incorporated or formed) then UK courts will have jurisdiction”. Despite the alleged actions of FIFA indirectly affecting the millions of football fans in the UK, the link was perhaps considered too tenuous to capture the alleged transactions.
The long arm of the American law has however managed to create a case against FIFA, despite its federal bribery laws only covering bribery of government officials.
Instead the indictments have been based on their Travel Act, which lists Bribery as forbidden. The Travel Act allows the US to act upon any alleged transaction which at some point has interacted with its infrastructure. Although this could be an obvious incident, such as a money transfer through the US or a meeting in the country, it also extends to emails which pass through US servers and phone calls where one person was within the US. Basically one aspect of the crime must have touched the United States at some point.
The sentiment of the act was echoed by FBI Director James Comey, who after the arrests said, “If you corrupt our shores with your corrupt enterprise, whether that is through meetings or using our world-class financial system, you will be held accountable for that corruption. Nobody is above or beyond the law.”
We will now watch with interest how this case unfolds. We are sure the matter will involve teams of fellow forensic accountants working alongside the lawyers for both the US Government and those implicated in the bribery.
However this case has wider implications and all UK businesses with activities in other jurisdictions must take note of the Bribery Act and consider what training and internal controls are required to protect their organisation and employees.