You know things are getting bad when the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) questions a business’ moral authority. Things certainly cannot be much better when the regulators begin nosing around your own self-indulgence. What happens when you realize all of a sudden that all those actions you have taken may actually fall under the jurisdiction of both the United Kingdom and the United States and their respective anti-corruption laws, the UK Bribery Act and the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA)? It turns out all of this may have come through for our friends at Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA).
Last week FIFA announced that it had considered the investigation into allegations of corruption into the awarding of the 2018 World Cup tournament to Russia and the 2022 World Cup tournament to Qatar and found, as reported in the Financial Times (FT) by Roger Blitz in an article entitled “Fifa thrown into fresh turmoil over Qatar World Cup corruption claims”, that “any improper behaviour in the bidding process for the tournament was “of very limited scope.”” This conclusion was made by a FIFA appointed former judge, “Hans-Joachim Eckert, who is chairman of the adjudicatory chamber of Fifa’s ethics committee.” Eckert had reviewed a 350-page report by investigator Michael J. Garcia, who is a former US prosecutor now practicing law in New York. Eckert released a 42 page “summary study” of the Garcia report, which he claimed supported his decision.
Unfortunately for FIFA and Eckert, Blitz reported in another FT article, entitled “Garcia and Eckert set for showdown over Fifa report”, that “Mr Eckert’s summary was disowned within hours of its publication by Mr Garcia, who claimed it misrepresented his findings. He has protested to Fifa’s appeals committee.” Garcia’s statement “has blown apart Fifa’s attempt to bring to a close nearly three years of allegations of unethical behaviour and has left Mr Eckert under increasing pressure to publish the Garcia investigation.” This action by FIFA led Reinhard Rauball, president of the German football league (DFL), to say, “Europe would have to consider breaking away from Fifa unless the Garcia investigation was published in full.”
All of this came after the summary itself noted that documents and evidence surrounding the Russian bid were lost because the computers on which they were stored had been destroyed. Garcia was not even able to speak with all the relevant witness in the Qatar bid as well. Even with this lack of full investigation, Garcia issues a statement which said that Eckert’s summary contained “numerous and materially incomplete and erroneous representations of the facts and conclusions detailed in the investigatory chamber’s report.”
What does all of this mean for FIFA? Certainly if the head of the German football league says that the European soccer federations may have to pull out of the organization because it is so corrupt that portends poorly. In another article in the FT, entitled “Brussels launches sliding tackle against Fifa”, Alex Barker reported “The EU’s top sports official is urging Fifa to come clean with findings from its corruption investigation, in a warning that signals a Brussels rethink over the commercial freedoms enjoyed by football’s scandal-tarnished governing body. In a direct swipe at Fifa’s attempt to clear Russia and Qatar to run the next two World Cups, Tibor Navracsics, the EU commissioner for sports, has called for full publication of a graft report into the 2010 bidding process to “remove doubts” about its findings. While Sepp Blatter’s Fifa is an unregulated Swiss body independent from government, its lucrative business activities in the European market are subject to rules overseen by EU regulators, including sales of television rights.”
What about any criminal issues? A quick Google search reveals that FIFA has offices in both the US and the UK. Given the very broad jurisdiction of the FCPA and perhaps the UK Bribery Act, it does not seem too far a stretch for either the Department of Justice (DOJ), the FBI, the UK Serious Fraud Office (SFO) or even the Overseas anti-corruption unit of the London police might want to open an investigation. Indeed CNN reported that the FBI is investigating FIFA at this time, saying “Investigators are moving ahead with their probe, which could result in charges against senior FIFA officials, the U.S. law enforcement officials said.”
For the compliance practitioner there are a couple of important lesson in all of this. First and foremost, in your internal investigations, you need to provide access of both documents and witnesses to your counsel. If you do not that alone may certainly compromise your investigation. This point was recently re-emphasized in the ongoing General Motors (GM) scandal over its ignition switch problems. It turns out that over two months prior to the public announcement the company had ordered over 500,000 new switches from its supplier. According to Hilary Stout and Bill Vlasic, writing in the New York Times (NYT) in an article entitled “G.M. Ordered a Half-Million Replacement Switches 2 Months Before Recall”, the order was placed after an internal company committee met. But no records of the meeting were provided to company’s outside counsel investigating this matter, Anton R. Valukas. Interestingly Valukas released a statement which the article quoted, ““To my knowledge, G.M. provided me access to all information in its possession related to G.M. inquiries regarding various repair options and part availability as G.M. considered potential fixes for the ignition switch in the event that a recall would occur,” the statement said.” That is lawyer-speak for I looked at what they showed me.
Hiding or not providing access to internal or outside counsel can be a recipe for disaster with the DOJ. The reason is the same as it is a disaster for FIFA in Europe. There is no trust left for the organization. Ask any ex-DOJer and they will tell you that it is all about credibility when you self-disclose to the DOJ or when you are in negotiations with the DOJ over a potential FCPA penalty. I regularly hear Stephen Martin and Mike Volkov say precisely that when they talk about their experiences from working for the US government. If you do not allow your investigators access to all relevant documents and those witnesses under your control, the DOJ will most probably not consider the results of your investigation valid. The DOJ may not even consider your exertions worthy of a good-faith effort.
One thing is also very relevant for the compliance practitioner. If your outside counsel disavows him or herself from the company’s interpretation of it going forward, you are in big trouble. Even the WSJ, in its Op-Ed piece said, “FIFA’s moral failure stands out.”
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© Thomas R. Fox, 2014