NEW YORK - As American and Swiss authorities proceed with their criminal investigations against FIFA officials, the future of the organization and its leadership remains a mystery. Anti-corruption experts say FIFA must take certain steps if it is to regain the world’s trust.
The U.S. investigation, one of the most expansive cases of foreign bribery in the history of the Justice Department had its start with ex-FIFA executive Chuck Blazer’s secret plea deal in 2013. That was followed by the indictment of 14 FIFA officials in May.
New York University law professor Jennifer Arlen said prosecutors are working their way up to the top.
“It is not uncommon for prosecutors to begin an investigation, and indict the first group of people, in part as a way of encouraging people to cooperate," she said. "So, if they have some witnesses who don't want to cooperate, there's nothing like watching other people get indicted to encourage you to cooperate.”
Coming off record television ratings for the women’s World Cup, the future of football in the United States seems promising. But for FIFA, the future is less certain.
Anti-corruption compliance expert Jeff Thinnes, CEO of JTI Inc., calls FIFA a “multibillion-dollar secret society” and says many of its 209 members have long-standing relationships with senior executives.
“Clearly some due diligence needs to be done on those individuals, and everybody currently associated with FIFA, so that as it’s reconstituted, the world at large could be sure that we are truly starting with a clean slate,” Thinnes said.
Former FIFA Independent Governance Committee member Alexandra Wrage said a lack of transparency works against the “good, ethical” people within the organization.
“It's a nonprofit and they should be answerable to the public," said Wrage, now president of Trace International, a nonprofit business association that provides members with anti-bribery compliance support.
"They are getting the benefit of this tax-free status, and the price of that is greater transparency. When a nonprofit the size of FIFA, with the reserves of FIFA, has less transparency than a public corporation, there’s something really wrong with the system,” said Wrage.
CONCACAF — FIFA’s affiliate governing body responsible for North America, Central America and the Caribbean — recently announced reforms. Among them are term limits for Executive Committee members, credit and background checks for vendors, and annual financial statements available to the public.