Perceived Pressure May Have Caused Soccer Elites to Commit Fraud

The world’s most popular sport has had a rough year. The Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) corruption scandal continues to spin off news stories, with a recent New York Times article indicating longtime FIFA president Sepp Blatter gave himself a raise only days after some of his colleagues were arrested. Lionel Messi, arguably the world’s best soccer player, was found guilty of three counts of tax fraud and sentenced to 21 months in prison, according to Forbes. However, 21 months is considered a light sentence in Spain, where Messi was convicted. Light sentences typically receive probation rather than jail time, so it seems unlikely Messi will be behind bars.

These aren’t individuals scratching by to make ends meet, so how does this make sense given what we know about the Fraud Triangle? To quote my colleague, Rand Gambrell, in a recent blog post:

One cornerstone of fraud theory is the “Fraud Triangle,” which theorizes that, for a fraud to occur, three elements must be present:

  1. A perceived need or financial pressure facing an individual
  2. A perceived opportunity to commit fraud
  3. The individual’s ability to rationalize or justify fraudulent behavior

Rand focused on the rationalization component, but I’ll focus on perceived need or financial pressure.

Must you have a perceived need or financial pressure to commit fraud? You generally do, but consider the word “perceived.” While it’s hard to believe there’s any real financial pressure on Blatter and Messi, people live in their own reality. Individuals may perceive themselves to be under financial pressure. Maybe they have many relatives and friends who depend on them or expect certain things. Maybe they run with a crowd that judges them if they don’t own a 100-foot yacht. This is important because if you’re conducting an internal investigation where you suspect fraud in your organization, and you look to the Fraud Triangle for answers, it might be easy to remove suspects just because you perceive no financial need. However, they may perceive their needs and/or pressures in a much different light.

Don’t assume that just because individuals appear to have it made, they have zero propensity to commit fraud. You could say Blatter and Messi had it made, and they still allegedly committed fraud.


Tom is a senior managing consultant with BKD’s Forensics & Valuation Services team. He has provided fraud investigation, litigation support, computer forensics, data mining and business valuation services. His experience includes managing large forensic accounting, fraud investigation and data mining projects.

Tom Haldiman – who has written posts on BKD Forensics.

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