Fifa Bribery Allegations and the Bribery Act 2010
15 October 2015
Practice Area: Commercial Law
In March 2015, it was reported in the media that former Fifa vice-president Jack Warner and his sons were between them paid over £1million by a Qatari firm shortly after Qatar's successful World Cup bid. In May 2015, the US Department of Justice released a statement confirming that fourteen individuals, including nine FIFA officials, had been indicted in relation to practices carried out by the defendants over twenty-four years involving the corruption of international soccer. In September 2015, Swiss prosecutors commenced criminal proceedings against current Fifa president, Sepp Blatter and just this month, Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini (UEFA president) were suspended by Fifa over allegations of a £1.3million bribe. At time of writing, none of the allegations have been proven.
None of the investigations to date have been carried out by the UK authorities. While the allegations relate to conduct outside of the UK, the Bribery Act 2010 (the “2010 Act”) has extraterritorial effect, meaning it applies to conduct carried out anywhere in the world, provided that the individual has a close connection to the UK. There is therefore potential for the Serious Fraud Office, the organisation responsible for conducting bribery investigations in the UK, to launch its own investigation into FIFA.
From the information available publically so far, it does not appear that any of the individuals have the necessary connection to the UK. Under section 7 of the 2010 Act, however, FIFA itself may be found guilty of an offence, if it can be shown to have failed to prevent its associated persons from bribing another person. In order for section 7 to apply, FIFA would have to be a “relevant commercial organisation”, meaning a body corporate incorporated in the UK which carried on business, or a body corporate (wherever incorporated) which carries on a business, or part of a business, in any part of the UK. In order to launch an investigation, the Serious Fraud Office would have to consider whether FIFA amounts to a body corporate, and the extent to which its business is carried on in the UK.
While it remains to be seen whether FIFA would constitute a relevant commercial organisation for the purposes of the 2010 Act, these developments serve to highlight the extraterritorial effect of the Act, and the possibility for non-UK organisations to be brought to the attention of the Serious Fraud Office.