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Serious Fraud Office Urged to Investigate FIFA

FIFA, football’s world governing body, is currently being investigated in relation to allegations of corruption concerning the bidding processes for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. The 2018 World Cup was awarded to Russia, and the 2022 World Cup was awarded to Qatar.

The corruption allegations were first reported in The Sunday Times which claimed that former FIFA vice-president Mohamed bin Hammam paid £3m to football officials around the world in return for support for the bid.

A report into the allegations has been prepared by an independent American lawyer Michael Garcia, but however, the contents of this report are currently being kept secret. As part of his investigation Garcia interviewed 75 witnesses and has recommended that several individuals are investigated further. It is understood that his report also includes recommendations for future bidding processes.

However pressure is mounting on FIFA to publish the report as it is believed that this could lead to potential criminal charges. Conservative MP Damian Collins has now asked the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) to request a copy of the report.

Mr Collins stated that, "FIFA seems to believe it is a self-governing body that operates outside the jurisdiction of international and national law-enforcement agencies. I do not believe this is the case and that if it holds information that indicates that offences may have been committed, this must be shared with the relevant law-enforcement agencies."

Mr Collins has previously urged the SFO to start its own investigation into the claims. A spokesman for the Serious Fraud Office said, "We note the contents of this letter and will respond in due course."

FIFA’s ethics chief Hans-Joachim Eckert has said the report would never be made public and a decision on the findings would not be announced until Spring 2015. He said only he and his deputy would ever see the report.

The Bribery Act 2010 will not apply to the allegations surrounding FIFA, as the alleged corruption offences took place in 2010 before to the Bribery Act come into force in July 2011. The law is not retrospective and any UK investigation into these matters would likely concentrate on potential offences under the Prevention of Corruption Act 1906.

The Bribery Act may potentially be available to the Serious Fraud Office should any future allegations of bribery come to light. Firstly any act committed by a UK citizen (or British overseas nationals within the scope of the Bribery Act) could be prosecuted even if their conduct occurred entirely outside the UK.

Perhaps more interestingly the Serious Fraud Office might be tempted to explore whether it has jurisdiction to prosecute FIFA itself. The corporate offence under Section 7 of the Act applies to any company, wherever incorporated, which carries on business in the UK. Although based in Switzerland, there may be some scope to argue that FIFA does carry out part of its business in the UK due to its relationship with the FA.

By its own admissions FIFA supports the association (the FA) financially and logistically through various programmes and grants them a number of attractive rights and privileges, and the FA also has obligations to FIFA. As representatives of FIFA in their countries, associations must respect the statutes, aims and ideals of football's governing body and promote and manage the sport accordingly.

If the Serious Fraud Office establish that FIFA is carrying out its business in the UK, it could prosecute them for a Failure to Prevent Bribery under Section 7.

For more information see the legal context of the FIFA corruption claims.

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