Shortly after New York Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s 47-count indictment involving FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) was announced in May, legal insiders and outsiders alike were asking how the U.S. was able to coordinate the arrests of foreign citizens in foreign countries for violating U.S. laws. The question–one of jurisdiction–is likely to be examined closely as the FIFA case plays out in federal district court. At the center of the indictment is the claim that FIFA was engaged in a “pattern of racketeering activity,” which provides the backbone for the charges under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (“RICO”).
The majority of federal laws do not apply to the conduct of other citizens outside of the U.S., however, extraterritorial criminal acts, in this case allegations of bribery, money laundering, and wire fraud, come under U.S. jurisdiction if the acts have an adequate nexus with, or connection to, U.S. soil.
While some defendants will likely raise jurisdictional challenges to the prosecution, given the massive scale of the conspiracy, which allegedly spanned over two decades, involved $150 million in bribes, and came after years of investigation, it is unlikely that such challenges will succeed. The allegations against the FIFA officials and sports marketing executives involve the use of the U.S. financial systems and communication networks. The indictment cites to bank transfers that facilitated the alleged bribes, many of which involved U.S. banks whose servers are located in New York City. The indictment also alleges that FIFA officials held meetings on U.S. soil to further their conspiracy. These jurisdictional hooks are likely sufficient to withstand any challenges to the ability of the U.S. to host to the international prosecution.