A big mystery in the recent era of corruption linked to FIFA is being revealed this week.
The report into suspected corruption in the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bidding contests — involving 11 nations and won by Russia and Qatar — has been the mystery ever since American investigator Michael Garcia delivered it more than 2½ years ago.
A leaked copy of the 430-page document kept confidential by FIFA and Switzerland’s attorney general has finally surfaced.
Germany’s biggest-selling daily Bild began publishing extracts in its Tuesday edition. It promises more revelations all week as FIFA leaders gather in Russia for the Confederations Cup final, a dress rehearsal for a World Cup next year that was won controversially in December 2010.
Garcia’s report was once expected to be explosive and became a holy grail for FIFA critics who thought the votes could be re-run.
Many believe bid leaders in Russia and Qatar must have engaged in wrongdoing to earn the votes of a FIFA executive committee lineup in 2010 that has since been widely discredited.
Most of those who took part in the 2010 vote have since been banned for unethical conduct, indicted on corruption charges by the U.S. Department of Justice, or remain under scrutiny by Swiss federal prosecutors who have 25 ongoing investigations involving more than 170 bank transactions suspected as money laundering.
Still, don’t expect the long-held suspicions to be proven this week.
“The [Garcia] report does not provide proof that the World Cup was bought in 2018 or 2022,” Bild journalist Peter Rossberg, who obtained the leaked copy, wrote in a Facebook post providing context to his initial story.
So, the Bild reports are not expected to provide a smoking gun, yet the Garcia Report has been a crucial catalyst to exposing corruption in the world of international soccer politics.
What was published in 2014?
Garcia, a former U.S. Attorney in Manhattan, delivered his investigation in September 2014 to FIFA’s then-ethics judge, Hans-Joachim Eckert.
The German judge published a summary two months later that acknowledged widespread wrongdoing among most of the 11 nations which bid to stage the tournament in 2018 or 2022.
However, Eckert concluded the wrongdoing had not decisively influenced the vote results. While Russia’s Vladimir Putin-backed bid won an all-European contest easily, Qatar was pushed to a final round in a five-bid 2022 contest to beat the United States 14-8.
Garcia disputed Eckert’s 42-page summary conclusion and soon resigned, though not before FIFA handed his work to Switzerland’s attorney general.
That Swiss investigation goes on. It has already helped remove Sepp Blatter as FIFA president and targets German organizers of the 2006 World Cup, including soccer great Franz Beckenbauer.
Swiss federal prosecutors are working closely with the U.S. Department of Justice, in its own sprawling case.
What is new this week?
Bild revealed that Garcia investigated a payment of $2 million US made to a FIFA voter’s 10-year-old daughter in 2011. That allegation surfaced in Brazilian and British media more than three years ago naming the official as Ricardo Teixeira. The Brazilian left FIFA in 2012 to avoid sanctions for taking kickbacks.
French and Brazilian media have also previously published Bild’s report that three FIFA members were flown to a 2010 meeting in Rio in a Qatari-owned private jet.
The extract from Garcia’s report states that Qatar’s Aspire sports academy was used to “curry favor with executive committee members.” This, Garcia added, “created the appearance of impropriety. Those actions served to undermine the integrity of the bidding process.”
Eckert’s summary stated that Qatar “pulled Aspire into the orbit of the bid in significant ways.” Yet he concluded the “potentially problematic facts and circumstances” about Qatar’s bid did not “compromise the integrity” of the overall bid process.
What does it mean for Qatar?
Qatar has always denied any wrongdoing in its surprise win. One strategy has been distancing itself from the country’s tainted former FIFA executive committee member Mohamed Bin Hammam.
Bild’s reports aim to provide new detail on how Qatar’s network of state and sports agencies helped to lobby FIFA voters.
The tiny emirate is now spending tens of billions of dollars building the infrastructure to cope with football’s biggest event.
The timing of the leak coincides with a regional diplomatic crisis that has left Qatar under a blockade by its neighbours. Accusing Qatar of supporting extremist ideology, Saudi Arabia and other Arab nations have pressured Qatar with a Sunday deadline to enact a 13-point list of demands.
The timing is embarrassing for Russia, though it likely has little to fear directly from Bild. That is partly because Russia “made only a limited amount of documents” available to Garcia’s team, Eckert wrote in 2014.
Garcia had been banned in 2013 from entering Russia; the bid team’s leased computers were later destroyed; staffers’ email accounts were not retrieved from Google.
Still, on Saturday in St. Petersburg, Russia’s top football official Vitaly Mutko should join FIFA President Gianni Infantino at a news conference.
Most questions will be about alleged corruption, not soccer.
Why does the Garcia report still matter?
A Garcia Report leak would have been huge before May 27, 2015. Everything changed for FIFA that day.
American and Swiss federal prosecutors revealed their huge investigations on the day FIFA was raided for evidence and football officials were arrested in early-morning hotel raids in Zurich.
The Garcia Report was overtaken by events driven by prosecutors in Brooklyn and Bern with greater evidence-gathering powers.
Garcia is now an appeals court judge in the state of New York. His work for FIFA is over; the fallout is certainly not.