After years of intrigue about allegedly corrupt World Cup bidding, FIFA published an investigation report Tuesday that showed how voters exploited the murky system yet allowed Russia and Qatar to host the 2018 and 2022 tournaments.
FIFA published investigator Michael Garcia’s 430-page dossier less than 24 hours after Germany’s biggest-selling daily, Bild, began reporting extracts from a leaked copy it received.
The full report verified the broad conclusions of a summary of Garcia’s work published by FIFA in November 2014.
A Russia bid backed by Vladimir Putin gave limited cooperation to Garcia’s team, which found no evidence of undue influence. Putin met six of 22 FIFA voters before the December 2010 elections.
Qatar’s ultimate victory over the United States tested FIFA’s bid rules to the limit. The bid team used a full range of lavishly funded state and sports agencies, plus advisors who raised Garcia’s suspicions.
Garcia’s report was once a holy grail for FIFA critics who hoped it would be explosive and force a rerun of the World Cup hosting votes.
Many believed Russian and Qatari bid teams must have behaved badly to persuade a FIFA executive committee lineup in 2010 that has since been widely discredited.
“Bid teams operated in an environment where a number of [voters] did not hesitate to exploit a system that in certain respects did not bind them to the same rules applicable to bid teams,” Garcia wrote, noting that some FIFA officials “sought to obtain personal favors or benefits.”
Some of those same FIFA officials have since been indicted by the U.S. Department of Justice in a widespread racketeering case that is ongoing.
Garcia’s team did not have the evidence-gathering powers of a criminal probe and it was clear they would be hampered even before starting a globe-trotting 2013-14 investigation.
His full report detailed how: FIFA voters refused to be interviewed; bid teams such as Russia and Spain were evasive; potential key witnesses could not be tracked down.
Garcia’s work also has been overtaken since he delivered it to FIFA’s then ethics judge in September 2014.
A 42-page summary written by German judge Hans Joachim Eckert was published two months later and disputed by Garcia. Their public falling out prompted FIFA to pass the dossier and supporting evidence to Switzerland’s attorney general for review.
The true significance of Garcia might only be seen once Swiss authorities have completed their work. It started with suspected money laundering linked to the World Cup bids and extended to other areas of FIFA business.
Around 25 investigations have been launched, the Swiss federal prosecution office said this month, using more than 170 suspect bank transactions as evidence.
Swiss investigators have shared evidence in recent years with the FBI and U.S. prosecutors who have indicted or taken guilty pleas from more than 40 soccer and marketing officials.
Russia has repeatedly denied wrongdoing since 2010, though the report confirmed that leased computers used by Russia’s bid campaign were later destroyed.
Staffers’ email accounts were also never retrieved from Google for Garcia’s deputy who oversaw the Russia section of a nine-candidate investigation. Russia had previously banned Garcia from the country over his prosecution of a Russian arms dealer in the U.S.
Qatari organizers of the 2022 tournament have also consistently denied wrongdoing. They declined to comment Tuesday.
Both World Cup host nations could claim victory though neither can be sure exactly in which direction prosecutors in Brooklyn and Bern will head next.
FIFA forced publication of the Garcia Report on a rest day at the Confederations Cup — the rehearsal tournament in Russia to test its readiness for the 2018 World Cup.
“For the sake of transparency, FIFA welcomes the news that this report has now been finally published,” world football’s governing body said in a statement.
Garcia’s team found “no evidence” that Russia’s bid team or Vladimir Putin, then prime minister and now president, unduly influenced FIFA voters.
In helping the United States’ bid, then-President Obama hosted a total of three FIFA voters at the White House in two separate visits. Former President Clinton was lobbying voters in Zurich until hours before they gave Qatar a 14-8 win,
“Leaders of most, if not all, 2018 and 2022 bid nations spoke directly with FIFA executive committee members,” Garcia noted.
The then-emir of Qatar was closely tied to his nation’s bid before he lifted the World Cup trophy in Zurich on voting day.
“There was one specific incident concerning ‘government involvement’ with the Qatar bid that did raise concerns,” Garcia wrote of the emir hosting South America’s FIFA voters who flew by private jet to Rio de Janeiro.
All three voters have since been identified in a U.S. Justice Department indictment for taking bribes in connection with broadcast deals.