FIFA clears itself of corruption but FBI isn’t buying it

Michael Garcia, and Hans-Joachim Eckert
Michael Garcia, left, and Hans-Joachim Eckert stand outside FIFA headquarters Zurich, Switzerland, in 2012.
(Walter Bieri / EPA)

A report intended to clear FIFA of wrongdoing in its vote to place the 2018 and 2022 World Cups in Russia and Qatar has instead plunged global soccer’s powerful governing body into civil war at the same time U.S. law enforcement officials are stepping up their own investigation into the organization.

On Thursday a German judge found that corruption surrounding the bidding process for the next two World Cups was “of a very limited scope” and ruled that the two events should go forward as planned.

But not even the man who led the investigation into those charges agreed with that. Former U.S. prosecutor Michael Garcia, who spent 18 months examining the bidding process on FIFA’s behalf, called FIFA’s synopsis of his report “incomplete and erroneous.”

Hours after FIFA announced the findings of German judge Hans-Joachim Eckert, chairman of the adjudicatory chamber of FIFA’s independent ethics committee, Garcia said he would appeal the decision. Garcia’s original report stretched to 350 pages but in issuing his ruling Thursday, Eckert released just a 42-page summary of the investigation. In that summary, Eckert said that neither Qatar nor Russia was guilty of any corruption.


“Today’s decision by the Chairman of the Adjudicatory Chamber contains numerous materially incomplete and erroneous representations of the facts and conclusions detailed in the ... report,” Garcia charged in a statement.

As for what comes next, that’s not exactly clear. But whatever it is it won’t be the closure FIFA President Sepp Blatter had hoped for. Not with the FBI announcing it is accelerating its own corruption investigation of senior FIFA leaders.

The Garcia investigation into the behavior of nations -- including the U.S. -- that bid for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups reportedly found that bribes had been offered. But FIFA has refused to release the full report because of what it calls concerns over witness confidentiality, issuing Eckert’s “Cliff’s Notes” version instead.

“The various incidents which might have occurred are not suited to compromising the integrity of the FIFA World Cup 2018/2022 bidding process as a whole,” that summary said.


Eckert also said there are no plans to reopen the investigation.

“In particular, the effects of these occurrences on the bidding process as a whole were far from reaching any threshold that would require returning to the bidding process, let along reopening it,” Eckert said.

In its own statement, FIFA hailed Eckert’s findings and said it, too, considered the investigation closed. The FIFA statement did not mention Garcia by name nor did it cite his planned appeal.

Meanwhile, CNN said Thursday that FBI agents in New York are moving forward with their 3-year-old investigation into FIFA corruption and plan to seek access to Garcia’s full report. A U.S. law enforcement official told CNN that the FBI  is looking into a variety of charges, some of them dealing with the 2018/2022 bidding process.