Eamonn McCann: FBI’s Swiss swoop on Fifa challenged

Why does such scrutiny not extend to banks?

European Parliament adopts a resolution calling FIFA boss Sepp Blatter to immediately step down from his post and for urgent reforms of the soccer world governing body. Video: Reuters


What business is it of the FBI that Fifa officials may have been involved in skulduggery in Switzerland?

Whence comes US attorney general Loretta Lynch’s authority to order the arrest in other jurisdictions of people the US would like to question?

Must all other justice departments and law officers jump to it when word comes that Washington wants them to dawn-raid the premises where their quarries are believed to be lurking?

Extraordinary as the presumption of the US may be, it is hardly as dismaying as the timid compliance with its edicts of law agencies and governments around the world. Yessir, yessir. . .

Writing on Bloomberg last week, Harvard law professor Noah Feldman challenged the legality of the FBI incursion on a number of compelling grounds. The law which the bureau cites in justification of its action is the (syntactically grotesque) Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organisations Act (Rico).

This, says Feldman, is “absurd”. Rico is designed for use against organised criminal organisations – drug cartels, the Mafia and such like. Fifa, for all its manifold sins, doesn’t come close.

US interests

Some might say there are other organisations which could more appropriately have been scrutinised for evidence of crimes touching directly on US interests. Banks, for example. HSBC, for instance.

HSBC was revealed in 2012 to have been involved in the biggest drug-trafficking and money-laundering operation in history. Knowledge of the crimes went very high indeed within the bank. Matt Taibbi reported in Rolling Stone that HSBC had “helped to wash hundreds of millions of dollars for drug mobs, including Mexico’s Sinaloa drug cartel, suspected in tens of thousands of murders . . . [It] also moved money for organisations linked to al-Qaeda and Hizbullah, and for Russian gangsters; helped countries like Iran, the Sudan and North Korea evade sanctions; and, in between helping murderers and terrorists and rogue states, aided countless common tax cheats in hiding their cash.”

HSBC hasn’t challenged any of this. Just before Christmas 2012, the US justice department announced that the bank had agreed to pay a fine of $1.9 billion – five weeks’ profit – in full and final settlement. All investigations were called off. No official of the bank was fined a dollar. None was charged with a crime.

Assistant attorney general Lanny Breuer explained that if bank officials had been pursued, “HSBC would almost certainly have lost its banking licence in the US, the future of the institution would have been under threat and the entire banking system would have been destabilised.”

Both HSBC and the attorney general’s office readily admit that crimes committed by a foreign bank (HSBC is British) on US soil, involving unimaginable amounts of money, have simply been shrugged off. No question of Ms Lynch asking the fraud squad to deploy agents to storm HSBC’s head office in the City of London.

Putting aside the obvious differences in the nature of the allegations, compared to the sums involved in the HSBC affair, we had Jack Warner cast as top villain . . . His and Fifa’s problem was that they are but minor players in a global game of criminality.

The FBI and Lynch’s office seem also to have missed the potential significance of a get-together hosted by president Nicholas Sarkozy at the Elysée Palace in the week before the Fifa congress in December 2010 which was to award the 2018 and 2022 World Cup finals to Russia and Qatar respectively. Guests included Uefa chief and Fifa executive Michel Platini, the son of the emir of Qatar, Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani (now emir himself), disgraced Qatari former vice-president of Fifa Mohamed Bin Hammam and Platini’s son, Laurent.

Days later, Platini cast France’s vote for Qatar as 2022 hosts. The following year, Laurent was appointed chief executive of Qatar-owned sports company Burrda. Shortly after that, Qatar bought the president’s favourite club, Paris Saint-Germain. Runners-up to Qatar in the race for 2022 were the US.


The point was made by the BBC’s North America correspondent John Sopel last weekend: “Barack Obama’s presidency has been marked by his determination to pull US troops out of foreign conflicts, to admit past mistakes and to say it is not for us to pick and choose which world leaders we like. But is America creating a new legal imperialism?

“Maybe old Vladimir Putin had a point when he said after the Fifa arrests last week – what business is this of America?”

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