Keystone, Walter Bieri, File / AP

FIFA prosecutor resigns over ‘lack of leadership’

Michael Garcia says he has lost confidence in the independence of FIFA’s adjudicatory chamber

The American lawyer who led the investigation into the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bid process resigned from the FIFA ethics committee on Wednesday in protest over the handling of his findings.

Michael Garcia cited a "lack of leadership" at the top of FIFA in a resignation statement. He also said he has lost confidence in the independence of his ethics committee colleague, German judge Joachim Eckert.

The former U.S. Attorney quit a day after the FIFA appeals panel rejected his challenge of Eckert's summary of the confidential 430-page investigation dossier. Last month, Eckert moved to close the case on the World Cup bidding contest because of lack of evidence.

Russia won the right to host the 2018 tournament and Qatar was awarded the 2022 edition.

Garcia said that Eckert misrepresented his work and launched his failed appeal.

"[The] Eckert Decision made me lose confidence in the independence of the Adjudicatory Chamber, [but] it is the lack of leadership on these issues within FIFA that leads me to conclude that my role in this process is at an end," Garcia wrote.

In his resignation statement, Garcia also questioned how FIFA can change after years of scandals and criticism.

"No independent governance committee, investigator, or arbitration panel can change the culture of an organization," Garcia wrote.

Garcia also revealed that the FIFA executive committee led by President Sepp Blatter tried to have disciplinary proceedings opened against him in September for "allegedly violating the Code of Ethics through my public comments." The chairman of FIFA's disciplinary panel rejected the attempt.

Garcia was appointed in July 2012 with the priority of probing the controversial 2018-2022 World Cup bidding contests. The investigation was designed to help reveal the willingness of Blatter's organization to confront some of its deep-rooted problems.

Since Garcia and his investigation team submitted their work in early September, clear splits emerged between the prosecutor and the judge. Eckert has seemed closer to FIFA in his approach and belief in how the ethics panel could use its powers, much to Garcia's increasingly obvious frustration.

Their working relationship was damaged by Eckert's 42-page report published by FIFA last month that suggested that the World Cup bidding probe should be closed for lack of strong evidence of wrongdoing.

"[W]hen viewed in the context of the report it purported to summarize, no principled approach could justify the Eckert Decision's edits, omissions, and additions," Garcia wrote.

Eckert said any corrupt and rule-breaking acts were of limited scope and did not influence the result of the December 2010 votes of the FIFA executive committee.

Still, with Garcia's work kept sealed against his wishes by strict FIFA Code of Ethics rules, critics and others have relied only on Eckert's word about the evidence against Russia, Qatar and the seven other bid candidates.

Garcia passed up the chance to stay and pursue his appeal against Eckert at the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which would likely take several months.

Still, prosecutions launched by Garcia against five senior football officials for alleged wrongdoing in the World Cup campaigns will continue. Those cases can be led by his ethics investigation deputy, Zurich-based former public prosecutor Cornel Borbely.

Germany’s famed sweeper and former manager Franz Beckenbauer, a voting member of the FIFA executive committee in December 2010, is the highest profile of the five accused men.

Three current board members — FIFA vice president Angel Maria Villar of Spain, Michel D'Hooghe of Belgium and Worawi Makudi of Thailand — also face sanctions for their actions during contests marred by claims of bribery, collusion and favor-seeking.

They are scheduled to attend a two-day executive committee session starting Thursday in Marrakech, Morocco.

On Friday, Blatter's ruling panel will discuss publishing all or parts of Garcia's file, and could finally see the document for themselves.

As part of Garcia-Eckert peace talks last month, they invited FIFA audit panel chairman Domenico Scala to analyze the investigation report. Scala can decide what the board should see before taking the next steps on a case that seems close to being shut down more than four years after the vote.

The Associated Press

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