Fifa appoints Michael J Garcia as top prosecutor to investigate World Cup corruption
FIFA handed former United States attorney Michael J Garcia the freedom to investigate any allegations of corruption in world football by appointing him yesterday as its first independent lead prosecutor.
Garcia has the authority to order fresh probes into old cases, including claims about how Fifa executive committee members awarded the hosting rights for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.
His appointment in a revamped Fifa ethics court is seen as a crucial step in Fifa president Sepp Blatter’s promised anti-corruption reforms.
“The decisions of this (ethics) committee will be accepted. There is no doubt,” Blatter said at a news conference. “We have to follow what they are going to find out, whenever they are going to open cases. Now let them work.”
Fifa also selected German judge Joachim Eckert to chair the judging chamber of its revamped, two-chamber ethics court. Garcia and Eckert can start work now but their appointments will be formally ratified at the next Fifa Congress, scheduled for May 2013 in Mauritius.
Garcia brings a stellar reputation to football’s embattled world governing body. He helped prosecute and convict terrorists who bombed the World Trade Center in 1993 while Assistant US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and has been suggested as a potential Director of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation.
One of his first tasks will be to inspect a Swiss court document on a World Cup kickbacks scandal to evaluate the behaviour of Blatter and other senior Fifa officials in the affair. Former Fifa president Joao Havelange and former 2014 World Cup organising head Ricardo Teixeira were finally identified last week for taking millions of dollars in payments from now-defunct marketing agency ISL.
“He (Garcia) will have not only to write, but the duty to have this case analysed on ethic, moral matters and then to report back to the executive committee,” Blatter said.
Fifa agreed that no statute of limitations on bribery and corruption claims should impede Garcia’s work, Blatter said.
Blatter’s ruling board agreed to modernise the ethics court to prosecute cases more effectively after a panel of anti-corruption experts advising Fifa said previous cases were “insufficiently investigated.”
The 13-member panel, led by Swiss law professor Mark Pieth, wants Garcia to examine claims surrounding how Russia and Qatar were awarded World Cup hosting rights in a December 2010 poll of Fifa’s executive committee.
Several senior Fifa officials were reported to have received payments or sought unethical favours from bidders, and Blatter has acknowledged that some breached bidding rules by joining a pact to back Qatar and the failed Spain-Portugal bid.
Garcia and Eckert had to fulfil a Fifa statute that neither they, nor their families, had a paid connection to football in the past four years.
Garcia was linked to an expected vacancy to lead the FBI last year, before President Barack Obama extended the term of ten-year incumbent Robert Mueller. During the administration of President George W. Bush, Garcia headed the 20,000-employee Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agency in the Department of Homeland Security.
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