Last week, agents burst into a hotel in Switzerland, arresting seven FIFA officials, at the request of the U.S. Department of Justice. Charges were announced against 14 FIFA-related officials in total, regarding racketeering, wire fraud, money laundering and bribery. Only two of those are U.S. nationals.
Our media did their dutiful part, whipping the public into an anti-FIFA frenzy, stopping just short of portraying FIFA chiefs as the villains sitting in Dr. Evil’s lair.
Yes, FIFA has corruption in its midst. So does Wall Street. So do our politicians. So do most international organizations. The issue at hand is whether the American government should be in the business of prosecuting FIFA’s acts.
We should not.
FIFA is not based in the United States; most of FIFA’s executives are not based in the United States, nor are they U.S. citizens; most of FIFA’s activities are not executed in the United States — you get the picture. Heck, a majority of Americans do not even know what FIFA is or give two hoots about soccer (pardon, futbol). We pretend to care once every four years, throw on the T-shirt of the flavor-of-the-month nation, buy Ricky Martin’s Cup of Life single on iTunes and that’s about it.
Yet the U.S. Department of Justice is spending countless manpower hours (hours that could be spent on other cases) cleaning up an organization based in Switzerland, which only nominally does business in this country. When Vladimir Putin called the prosecution “strange,” noting the crimes did not involve the United States nor take place in the country, he was right.
Legally, despite what the Justice Department claims, there is almost no basis for America to launch this prosecution, quite simply because America has no jurisdiction in the matter.
Much of the jurisdictional claim is based on these alleged bribery payments passing through U.S. banks. In other words, the bribes were at some point processed by the channels of a U.S. bank, so that means the United States has jurisdiction.
Think about that for a moment. Considering the behemoth activity of U.S. banks (Chase, Bank of America and so forth), are we truly going to contend that any activity that flies through U.S. banking channels grants the United States jurisdiction to prosecute that activity?
Just when did these charged officials clearly commit a crime on American soil? Nope, no dice there, either.
Additionally, why should cleaning up this corruption merit thousands of hours trying to make the case at an ever-growing cost to the American taxpayer? Why is Joe Six-Pack in Arkansas footing the bill for cleaning up FIFA?
We are told that the FIFA officials allegedly accepted roughly $150 million in bribes. Considering this is spread out over a multitude of officials, however, and over the course of more than 20 years, this almost seems like chump change.
Surely, our politicians have accepted just as much, if not more, in the form of quid pro quo with donors and kickbacks.
Sure, prosecution of FIFA is popular worldwide, as many have long complained about its practices (then again, folks also complain about the NFL). But, just what is the world getting into bed with, when it cheers one nation stretching its tentacles so far, simply because it likes the outcome?
As Cersei Lannister learned in this season’s Game of Thrones, when the High Sparrow she unleashed turned on her: It’s all fun and games when the juggernaut is doing your own bidding, but when it later uses that power to prosecute something other than, well, a bunch of glamorous, rich soccer execs, what then?
To quote Thomas More in A Man for All Seasons, as he argues against cutting a road through the law to go after the devil: “And when the last law was down and the devil turned around on you, where would you hide, the laws all being flat?...Yes, I give the devil the benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake.”
We may well come to regret this overreach. But hey, at least an organization most Americans could not care less about will be less corrupt. That sounds as though it is certainly worth the trade-off. Doesn’t it?