Why the US is leading the charge against FIFA

As the latest scandal involving FIFA unfolds, questions are being asked as to why it's the U.S. that has chosen to swoop on world soccer's governing body.

A number of top FIFA officials were arrested on Wednesday morning at the request of the U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ), in relation to claims about corruption and racketeering spanning the last 24 years.

Moments afterwards, the Swiss Attorney General announced it was also opening criminal proceedings, focusing on "criminal mismanagement and money laundering" in relation to the host country allocations for the 2018 and 2022 FIFA World Cups in Qatar and Russia.

At face value, the U.S. justice system appears to be linked to only one of the investigations, but actually, the Swiss inquiry also has a raft of connections with the U.S. CNBC looks at the U.S. ties with FIFA and why it is getting involved with the investigations.


Wrongdoing on US soil?

With regards to the DoJ investigation, Attorney General Loretta Lynch said in her indictment on Wednesday that officials from the regional branch of FIFA known as CONCACAF (the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football), which is headquartered in the U.S., were under investigation.

As well as FIFA officials, the defendants include U.S. and South American sports marketing executives who allegedly dealt with well-over $150 million in bribes and kickbacks. The Swiss Federal Office of Justice - who are working on behalf of the U.S. - confirmed that its investigation related to alleged corruption on U.S. soil, as it swooped and arrested seven officials associated with FIFA on Wednesday morning.

"According to the U.S. request, these crimes were agreed and prepared in the U.S., and payments were carried out via U.S. banks," its statement read.

US extraditions possible

Swiss authorities were questioning defendants on Wednesday as to their willingness to be extradited to the U.S.

"Depending on whether the suspects will consent to the extradition immediately or whether they will challenge the arrest with legal measures, the extradition could happen fairly quickly or take several months," a spokesman for the Swiss justice ministry spokesman said.

Mitchell Epner of law firm Hughes Hubbard & Reed described the investigation and extradition threat as "by far the most serious challenge that FIFA has ever faced," in an email to CNBC on Wednesday.

'Serious and wide-ranging issues'

American lawyer Michael Garcia was appointed as head of FIFA's ethics committee in 2012 and led an inquiry into the bidding processes behind the 2018 and 2022 World Cup tournaments.

Garcia said there had been a period of "real progress," but proceedings turned sour in 2014 and he resigned in December.

In his resignation speech, he heavily criticized the decision by FIFA to only release a 42-page summary of his findings from his inquiry. He stated at the time that his report had "identified serious and wide ranging issues with the (World Cup) bidding and selection process."

Garcia has strong links with the U.S. justice system, although his finding may be of more use to the Swiss investigation into the bidding processes, rather than the DoJ allegations about "criminal mismanagement and money laundering."

Before joining FIFA, Garcia served as the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, which is regarded as the premier U.S. Attorney's office in the country. Before this, he served as U.S. Attorney from 2005 to 2008.

A biography on Garcia by one of his former employers states that he supervised some of the nation's "most significant investigations into securities fraud."

FBI investigation

FIFA officials have been under investigation by the U.S.'s Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for several years, with questions over whether top officials were paid large bribes to select the host country for World Cup final rounds.

Media reports on Wednesday suggested that Charles "Chuck" Blazer, the former U.S. representative on the FIFA executive committee, had been cooperating with the U.S. authorities in the latest investigations. The DoJ has not confirmed this however.

In 2013, Blazer pleaded guilty to 10 charges for racketeering conspiracy, wire fraud conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy and income tax evasion. He was charged over $1.9 million at the time of his plea and has agreed to pay a second amount to be determined at the time of his sentencing.