FIFA’s corruption - Why the UK has done nothing

As night follows day we see yet more bluster from UK politicians and football officials as FIFA predictably descends into yet another scandal. This time it’s serious, with Prince William wading in to express his outrage.

But what are the British actually doing about this? The FBI have mounted a serious investigation which has resulted in extremely serious charges being brought forward against leading FIFA officials. Although football is not the national game of the US, the indictment of the FIFA officials states that some of the transactions were made using US banks, and some of the bribes were arranged on US soil. This gives the FBI the opportunity under US law to intervene.

So are we to assume from the apparent lack of any action from UK authorities means that the UK is untouched by FIFA’s dirty money? After all, the police in the UK would have little excuse not to act, as scandal after scandal hit FIFA over many years, frequently uncovered by British journalists, there has been widespread calls for someone to do something to clean up FIFA’s dirty game.

Far from it. As reported by the Observer yesterday, the UK’s network of tax havens, all with Queen Elizabeth as their sovereign, are front and centre of the indictment from the FBI as a means by which dirty bribe money was laundered (perhaps a job for William to look into as he waits his turn on the throne).

One of the people named in the indictment, Costas Takkas, is a British citizen. He was, according to the documents, the General Secretary of the Cayman Islands Football Association, right-hand man to Jeffrey Webb (himself Blatter’s right-hand man).

Yesterday we learned that three UK banks, HSBC, Standard Chartered and Barclays have launched investigations after the US Department of Justice indictment revealed that they had been used to handle potentially illegal payments.

Now there is currently nothing to say that these banks have done anything illegal. But the fact that UK financial system was used means that the UK could have launched their own investigation into FIFA’s dirty money, but they didn’t. In fact they still haven’t, even now. The banks are being left to investigate themselves. That should do the job.

Go UK. Still, a few patronising remarks about corruption in developing countries should see things right.

No, wait - we can do better. Yesterday in Parliament, culture secretary John Whittingham announced that the Serious Fraud Office was reviewing information that had been provided to it, there is no criminal investigation as yet, and, by God, “if any evidence of criminal wrongdoing in the UK emerges we will support the fraud office in pursuing those involved.”

So there. If UK criminal investigators have evidence of criminal wrongdoing forced down their throat, the government will support the fraud office to do something about it. No need to go overboard though - let’s not actually look for evidence.

Should we be surprised at any of this? No. It has been the long term policy of successive British governments to build an entire financial industry around handling the world’s dirty money without asking too many questions.

As quoted in our friend Nicholas Shaxson’s excellent book, Treasure Islands, a Bank of England memo from 1963 put the case clearly,

However much we dislike hot money, we can not be international bankers and refuse to accept money.

With such an outrage at the way in which the beautiful game is being dirtied by a mire of rampant corruption, perhaps now is the time to take action. If only Her Majesty’s Constabulary took as much interest in FIFA’s bribe machine as Her Majesty’s son.


Picture Credit: the National Crime Agency

© 2014