6th Floor, Woodrow Wilson Center

Red Cards, Red-Handed: FIFA Corruption and the Long Arm of U.S. Law Enforcement

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As the 2018 FIFA World Cup kicks off, global attention is focused on the soccer fields of Russia. However, lurking behind the goalposts is a global FIFA corruption scandal that continues to reverberate, from Zurich to Asunción. On May 27, 2015, the soccer world awoke to news of a pre-dawn police raid at FIFA headquarters in Switzerland that captured seven top officials. That day, the U.S. Department of Justice rolled out a 47-count indictment against nine high-level FIFA executives and five businessmen for alleged involvement in “a 24-year scheme to enrich themselves through the corruption of international soccer.” In all, nine soccer kingmakers were accused of accepting over $150 million in bribes. A second indictment, in December 2015, implicated more corrupt actors, including the heads of the North and South American soccer confederations.

How has the FIFA case changed soccer governance globally and in the Americas, where the scandal implicated the former heads of Brazil’s soccer confederation and South America’s soccer governing body, among others? What does the FIFA investigation tell us about the DOJ’s anticorruption cooperation with foreign prosecutors, and why did it get interested in FIFA in the first place? How has soccer-obsessed Latin America reacted to the corruption revelations, and the DOJ’s central role in policing a sport that has a relatively low profile inside the United States?

To answer these questions (and to deliver their World Cup predictions), the Inter-American Dialogue and the Wilson Center presented “Red Cards, Red-Handed: FIFA Corruption and the Long Arm of U.S. Law Enforcement.” A breakfast reception ahead of the discussion was sponsored by The Bubble, a digital media company covering Argentina and Latin America, which is celebrating the launch of its redesigned website.


Selected Quotes


Marshall Miller

“Training in prosecuting international terrorists and mobsters is good training for investigating FIFA, I think, for prosecutors, agents, and the like."

“It’s important to draw a distinction when you’re thinking about RICO and racketeering cases between racketeering cases where the enterprise itself is a criminal enterprise... and FIFA or a union or other organizations where they are actually legitimate organizations with worthy goals that are being corrupted by folks within the organization.”

“I think it is important to view corruption, in every country, as an ongoing problem that is just not going to get rooted out.”

Carrie H. Cohen

“Our U.S. banking system is very secure [and] it is highly regulated. This is all a good thing. But we do not want different countries and different people in different countries and people within our own country to use the legitimacy of our banking system for ill-gotten gain.”

“When you look at very large organizations – it doesn’t matter if it’s a football organization or a mob organization or a very corrupt criminal enterprise, which is what the RICO statute really goes for...  you’re looking at how the organization works, how many people are involved [and] you sort of move up the ladder within the organization." 

Peter Schechter

“I see FIFA... as the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It is this profoundly corrupt center that has these spokes, but it lets everybody do their own things... The Czechs, the Croats, the Jews, the Muslims – everybody can manage their own businesses, can manage their own state of affairs, with their own cultural mores, as long as they give to the center. And, like the Austro-Hungarian Empire, FIFA eventually became corrupt beyond its ability; the weight of corruption brought it down.”

“I think there is a profound sense in Latin America – not only about corruption, but even more in what’s fueling the politics – is the sense of impunity. It is the sense that elites, the state, and the corrupt are never punished and always are willing to sell out the institutions for money.”

Michael Camilleri

“The indictment is sort of striking in that it paints a picture of a vast criminal enterprise – and actually, the charges are also brought under the RICO statute, which is a racketeering law that was initially designed to take down the mafia.”


Opening remarks

Benjamin N. Gedan
Public Policy Fellow, Latin American Program, Woodrow Wilson Center


Marshall Miller
Former Chief Prosecutor, Criminal Division, Eastern District of New York
Counsel, Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz

Carrie H. Cohen
Former Assistant United States Attorney, Southern District of New York
Partner, Morrison & Foerster LLP

Peter Schechter
Former Director, Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center, Atlantic Council
Host, Foreign Policy Podcast, Altamar


Michael Camilleri
Director, Peter D. Bell Rule of Law Program, Inter-American Dialogue