Samson Siasia
Samson Siasia

New York Court dismisses Siasia’s suit against FIFA

NEWS DIGEST – FIFA on Friday escaped a soccer coach’s lawsuit challenging a bribery conviction and coaching ban handed down by the organisation’s judicial body, after a Manhattan federal judge found that the Swiss dispute has no jurisdictional ties to New York.

According to a report by The Guardian, United States (U.S.) District Judge, Alvin K. Hellerstein, axed the August 2 complaint filed by Samson Siasia, a U.S. citizen and former Nigerian national team head coach. In 2019, the Adjudicatory Chamber of the FIFA Ethics Committee convicted Siasia of participating in a wide-ranging conspiracy to fix hundreds of matches by allegedly paying off corrupt players and officials.

Siasia, an Atlanta resident, alleged that soccer’s governing body trampled on his constitutional rights by investigating and convicting him in Switzerland, where FIFA is based, instead of reporting the charges to the FBI or other United States enforcers. He asked the court to overturn the conviction, return his 50,000 Swiss Franc fine and reverse his five-year coaching ban.

But Judge Hellerstein said the court lacks authority to consider the claims because both FIFA and Court of Arbitration for Sport, which upheld Siasia’s conviction on appeal, operate under Swiss law.

The judge rejected Siasia’s attempt to establish a jurisdictional link to Manhattan based on the fact that New York is one of 16 North American host cities for the 2026 World Cup.

“I find that defendant is not subject to either general or specific jurisdiction,” Judge Hellerstein wrote. “While the complaint alleges that defendant has ‘significant contact in this district and is currently organising the 2026 FIFA World Cup in this district,’ plaintiff’s injuries neither relate to nor arise out of whatever that ‘contact’ entails.”

Judge Hellerstein added that even if a U.S. court did have jurisdiction over the dispute, that court would be not in New York City but Atlanta, where Siasia resides.

“Plaintiff himself has no connection with New York, and defendant’s contacts or lack thereof were felt by plaintiff in Atlanta, Georgia,” the judge wrote.

According to Siasia’s complaint, the coach was licensed through the United States Soccer Federation, a FIFA affiliate, in 2009. A year later, since-convicted match-fixer Wilson Raj Perumal offered Siasia a coaching job in Australia where he would “play along” and “close one eye” to Perumal’s dealings, the suit says.

In emails sent from Atlanta, Siasia expressed interest, and the two went back and forth on terms but ultimately went their separate ways, according to the lawsuit.

The FIFA Ethics Committee learned about the messages during a Finnish probe into Perumal and charged Siasia around February 2019, the suit says. The judicial body found Siasia guilty and imposed a fine and lifetime coaching ban in August 2019.

Siasia appealed the decision to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which upheld his conviction and fine this June. But the arbitral court reduced Siasia’s ouster to five years, finding that a lifetime ban was disproportionate to the offense, according to the lawsuit.

Reached for comment Friday, Siasia’s lawyer Nitor V. Egbarin told Law360 that the case is not over. Egbarin said they will either refile the lawsuit in Georgia or appeal Judge Hellerstein’s dismissal order.

“He can bring his case in Atlanta,” Egbarin said, “or we can appeal it, because I believe FIFA has enough contact in New York.”

Counsel for FIFA did not immediately comment on the order on Friday.

Siasia is represented by Nitor V. Egbarin of the Law Office of Nitor V. Egbarin LLC.

FIFA is represented by H. Christopher Boehning, Daniel H. Levi and Ethan Stern of Paul Weiss Rifkind Wharton & Garrison LLP.

The case is Siasia v. Federation Internationale de Football Association, case number 1:21-cv-06516, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.