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New investigations announced in mega-sport corruption

The New York Times reports that U.S. prosecutors have issued grand jury subpoenas in what appears to be an expansive investigation of corruption in international soccer, track and field, and the Olympic Games.

The prosecutors are reportedly seeking information related to FIFA, the International Olympic Committee, the U.S. Olympic Committee, and the International Association of Athletics Federations (the international governing body for track and field).

The subpoenas have issued in the Eastern District of New York, the same office that spearheaded the ground-breaking investigation and prosecution of FIFA officials. Those prosecutions resulted in numerous resignations and convictions, and heralded a new era in the prosecution of mega-sport corruption. The present subpoenas relate to possible money laundering, racketeering, and fraud.

These investigations do not implicate the FCPA, but not because bribery is not alleged. Rather, the IOC, FIFA, and related international sports governance bodies are not designated public international organizations. The officials of these organizations are therefore not included among the “foreign officials” to whom the FCPA prohibits giving, offering, or promising bribes.  

The subpoenas have issued on the eve of the 2018 Winter Games, which open in Pyeongchang, South Korea on February 9. The sheer number of anti-corruption enforcement actions surrounding these Games may itself be some kind of Olympic record.  But notably, the story of these Games is not the mere allegation of corruption, but rather, its credible investigation and enforcement.

Cynics may argue that corruption is as old as sport itself, and virtually impossible to eliminate. They’re right.  Anti-corruption enforcement is no more likely to eliminate corruption than murder statutes are likely to eliminate murder. But the prosecution of corruption, in sport and beyond, is becoming more globalized and coordinated than ever before. The EDNY is of course joined by federal prosecutors in France, Switzerland, Brazil, South Korea, and beyond in prosecuting this high-profile form of corruption.

The true end goal — the finish line, if you will — is not the eradication of corruption, but its meaningful deterrence. It’s still quite early in the race — just a couple decades, really. But we’ve set a good pace.

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For more commentary, see the website for the University of Richmond School of Law’s Olympic Anti-Corruption Research Team.  And follow this space.

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Andy Spalding is a lecturer at the International Anti-Corruption Academy, Professor at the University of Richmond School of Law, and Senior Editor of the FCPA Blog.

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