Why the FIFA case is being prosecuted in the US

FIFA may be based in Switzerland and oversee a game that most Americans don't watch, but U.S. officials said they have the jurisdiction to pursue corruption charges against some of its top officials.

The U.S. Justice Department announced the charges—including racketeering and bribery—on Wednesday, unsealing a 47-count indictment as well as several earlier guilty pleas. U.S. authorities said that nine FIFA officials and five sports media and promotions executives face corruption charges involving more than $150 million in bribes.

Several top-ranking international soccer officials were arrested Wednesday in Switzerland for extradition to the United States. But American authorities say they are not simply acting as world police—despite the global nature of the alleged crimes.

Attorney General Loretta Lynch enters a packed news conference at the U.S. Attorneys Office of the Eastern District of New York following the early morning arrest of world soccer figures, including officials of FIFA, for racketeering, bribery, money laundering and fraud on May 27, 2015 in New York City.
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Attorney General Loretta Lynch enters a packed news conference at the U.S. Attorneys Office of the Eastern District of New York following the early morning arrest of world soccer figures, including officials of FIFA, for racketeering, bribery, money laundering and fraud on May 27, 2015 in New York City.

"This racketeering enterprise impacted the United States in a number of ways," acting U.S. Attorney Kelly Currie of the Eastern District of New York said in a news conference Wednesday.

Much of the U.S. inquiry focuses on the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football, whose Trinidadian former boss Jack Warner was regularly dogged by accusations of corruption before he resigned in 2011, at which point FIFA terminated its investigations of him.

Currie explained that CONCACAF's headquarters has been in the United States—in New York and then Florida—for the entire time period included in the indictment. Additionally, he said, many of the banking institutions and money services allegedly used to funnel illegal payments are located within the United States.

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Finally, many of the people who were charged in the indictment either resided in the United States during some of the relevant period, or they conducted meetings regarding their supposed schemes in the United States, Currie said.

"This is a global investigation, and we live in a global marketplace: The world is not insular to a particular country any longer," Currie said. "And so, virtually any international business transaction crosses borders, and this is really no different."

The Swiss Federal Office of Justice echoed Currie's assertion, saying in a statement that the U.S. request for extradition alleges that "these crimes were agreed and prepared in the U.S., and payments were carried out via U.S. banks."

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U.S. law gives its courts broad powers to investigate crimes committed by foreigners on foreign soil if money passes through U.S. banks or other activity takes place there.

"All of these defendants abused the U.S. financial system and violated U.S. law, and we intend to hold them accountable," Attorney General Loretta Lynch said.

FIFA recorded more than $2 billion in revenue last year, and its total multi-year revenue linked to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil came in at more than $4.8 billion, the organization said in its annual financial report.

—Reuters contributed to this report.