Nike seen avoiding charges in soccer bribery probe: lawyers
By David Ingram
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Nike Inc may be able to avoid U.S. charges over any involvement in bribery payments to win soccer sponsorships, but could face penalties if U.S. prosecutors decide to clamp down on the global sportswear giant, lawyers with expertise in the subject said.
Although Nike has not been named or charged with any wrongdoing, the company was swept into the corruption scandal that engulfed soccer's governing body FIFA when a U.S. indictment released on Wednesday described apparent kickback payments linked to a landmark 1996 Nike deal in Brazil.
In a statement on Thursday, Nike said that the charges did not allege that it engaged in criminal conduct or that any Nike employee was aware of or took part in a bribery scheme. On Wednesday, in another statement, it did not confirm or deny that it was the company in the indictment, but said it was cooperating with authorities.
The description of the $160 million, 10-year deal signed by "Sportswear Company A" matched exactly the details of Nike's agreement to become the footwear and apparel supplier and sponsor of the world's most successful national soccer team.
Still, the U.S. Justice Department is likely to take a tougher stance against those who solicited bribes than those who paid them, especially if a company did not have a long history of paying bribes, said former U.S. federal prosecutor Michael Volkov.
"Where the case is going, it's not focusing as much on the people who were shaken down as it is on the people doing the shaking," Volkov said.
While the 14 defendants in the indictment are being charged with crimes such as money laundering and wire fraud, the United States has normally prosecuted U.S. businesses for foreign bribery under the 1977 Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA).
That law's anti-bribery provisions apply to dealings with governments and government officials and may not be of much use in the soccer world because soccer associations are typically not government agencies. The Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF), which signed the 1996 deal with Nike, is a private organization. Continued...