Only tough options now for FIFA prosecutor Garcia

English FA Rejects FIFA Ethics Report Over 2018 Bid
English FA Rejects FIFA Ethics Report Over 2018 Bid

GENEVA (AP) -- Michael Garcia faces a difficult decision after FIFA, soccer's notoriously unaccountable world governing body, released a summary of his investigation into World Cup bidding that the former U.S. federal prosecutor calls "incomplete and erroneous."

Garcia was brought on because of his clean reputation as a serious investigator. But now, he's tied to a case that is being called a whitewash all over the world.

FIFA critics say Garcia needs to take a stand, either by resigning as independent chief investigator or by leaking his full report into corruption in the bidding for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, won by Russia and Qatar, respectively.

Garcia is in a public rift with his co-chairman on the FIFA Ethics Committee, German judge Joachim Eckert, who released the summary last week.

Leaking the full 430-page investigation would likely lead to Garcia's firing, according to FIFA Code of Ethics rules, but the anti-corruption expert who helped bring Garcia to FIFA thinks he should do it.

"Let's hope he will really leak it," Swiss law professor Mark Pieth told The Associated Press.

The FIFA-released summary report of Garcia's investigation said there was wrongdoing by Russia, Qatar and other candidates, but "of very limited scope ... far from reaching any threshold that would require returning to the bidding process, let alone reopening it," Eckert wrote.

Eckert refused to identify any current FIFA board members implicated by Garcia.

Garcia then filed an appeal to FIFA against Eckert's decision to close the case against Russia and Qatar. The most momentous sports politics story since the Salt Lake City bid scandal tore through the International Olympic Committee in 1998 continues to grow even as FIFA tries to close it.

Pieth does not rule out Garcia resigning - "It would be a good moment to quit" - but prefers the leak option.

"We simply have to have Garcia's text," Pieth said. "My experience is that in the U.S. everything is leaked for political purposes. Everything is leaked if it helped."

Many soccer fans are enraged that Qatar - a tiny country of little sports tradition and searing summer heat, yet owning a key power broking seat at FIFA and a bloated campaign budget fueled by natural gas riches - could host their cherished event. And possibly in November 2022, interrupting the traditional club season.

It's not the first corruption complaint on FIFA President Sepp Blatter's watch. Elections since 1998 to choose a president or World Cup host have been linked to vote-rigging.

Blatter is not suspected of personal corruption. Instead, he inherited an entitled culture and 24-man board with several members since proven to be corruptible and let them flourish.

With World Cup voters like these, how could a bid win without playing their game?

FIFA's ability to avoid scrutiny in Switzerland has been enabled by generous tax and business regulation. The nation offers a warm welcome to sports bodies, including the IOC, which enjoy status as non-profit clubs.

Like a "pirate harbor," Pieth has described his home nation.

FIFA member federations have little wish to oust Blatter or demand change when Zurich trickles money funded by World Cup broadcasting and sponsor deals.

Longtime U.S. soccer official Alan Rothenberg, who ran the 1994 World Cup organization, told the AP this week he does not see how pressure can be brought.

"Unless there's a criminal situation pointing to FIFA, not to any individuals, I don't know what outside force they would have to respond to," said Rothenberg, who is a member of Eckert's judging panel, though was not involved assessing Garcia's report.

Garcia was thought to be such a force when he arrived at scandal-racked FIFA in July 2012. For FIFA's fiercest critics, the former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York fueled hope of finding evidence of Qatari bribery.

For Pieth's team helping shape reforms promised by Blatter after a chaotic 2011 re-election - his Qatari opponent Mohamed bin Hammam withdrew days before polling, claiming Blatter helped orchestrate a bribery scandal - the longer-term goal was a new culture of honesty.

Garcia's report has criticisms of a "culture of entitlement" at board level, according to an official briefed on the text who spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity. Blatter's leadership was mostly praised by Eckert but is slammed in the investigation.

Clues were left in Garcia's speech in London last month.

"What is required is leadership: leadership that sends a message that the rules apply to everyone; leadership that wants to understand and learn from any mistakes or missteps the ethics committee may have identified," he said.

By late Friday, FIFA announced the two ethics chairmen had spoken and would meet within days. They must still cooperate on Garcia's pending prosecutions of individual FIFA board members and bid staffers.

If Garcia pursues his appeal, it will likely fail at FIFA's in-house committee.

A subsequent appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport would surely stretch beyond the World Cup case timetable. Eckert has suggested next spring as an end.

"I don't have big hopes," for Garcia's appeal, Pieth told The AP. "I would rather now at this stage that the world opinion becomes the judge. We want to see that report."

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