Suspected criminality in World Cup bids? It's not that simple

Both Blatter and Eckert claim there is insufficient evidence to reopen the World Cup bids

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The Independent Online

Fifa has submitted a criminal complaint to Switzerland’s attorney general after an investigation into possible World Cup corruption, specifically concerning individuals linked to the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. The move does not impact negatively on the decision to name Russia and Qatar as hosts, says Fifa.

Q. Who are the individuals concerned?

A. Fifa has not disclosed who is behind the potentially criminal “international transfer of assets”, but has said they concern Swiss bank accounts. Since the 2010 vote to award the tournaments to Russia and Qatar, five of the 22-strong committee who voted have left Fifa over corruption. They are Jack Warner, Chuck Blazer, Ricardo Teixeira – the architect of Brazil’s successful 2014 bid – Mohamed bin Hammam and Nicolas Leoz. None of these men is understood to have cooperated with Fifa’s investigation into the affair. It is unknown whether there is any overlap between this group and those to be investigated.

Q. Why has Fifa taken almost a week to announce its suspicions of criminal activity?

A. Judge Hans-Joachim Eckert, who wrote the now heavily criticised summary of the American attorney Michael Garcia’s investigation into alleged bid corruption, yesterday said he recommended the report be passed to police at the time of its publication last Thursday, and the announcement has been made today.

The disclosure comes just in time before Eckert and Garcia hold their planned meeting tomorrow. Eckert’s summary has been heavily criticised and fundamentally undermined by Garcia, so if Garcia remains determined his report be published – which he could do by leaking the document or through almost any European or US parliamentary body which is subject to privilege – Fifa could argue it could not publish it because the police are now investigating its findings.

Q. Will this new development increase the pressure for the publication of the Garcia report?

A. It increases the pressure but decreases the likelihood of it happening to almost zero. Fifa has passed the report in full to the police. In Blatter’s internal Q&A on Fifa’s own website – as close as the organisation gets to a real interview – he has reiterated his claim that it would be illegal to publish the report. A position he will know is strengthened now that it is the subject of a police investigation.

Q. Are England likely to be involved?

A. Probably not. Judge Eckert’s summary criticised them for arranging a part-time job for an associate of disgraced executive Jack Warner, and for hosting a £35,000 dinner in the Caribbean. The alleged criminality here involves the “transfer of assets”, a practice not hinted at in the published summary, and one that it would be quite extraordinary for the FA to have been involved in.

Q. What happens now?

A. The Swiss Office of the Attorney General will assess the documents and attempt to speak to the people implicated. It is highly likely the people the office will wish to speak to are those who have been implicated by the Garcia report. Powers of coercion or extradition will be difficult and time consuming to enforce over people from other countries who have ended their financial involvements in Switzerland. Fifa knows this. But the authorities have the power to investigate any Swiss bank accounts of individuals involved or their families. Both Blatter and Eckert maintain there is “insufficient evidence” to reopen the bidding for the two tournaments. If the Swiss authorities find sufficient evidence, the next steps depend on precisely what they find.

Q. What can we read into Blatter’s language?

“If we had anything to hide, we would hardly be taking this matter to the Office of the Attorney General,” he said. But he has not seen the report. There can be no doubt he does not want either host nation  changed, which would probably be fatal to his presidency. By shifting the focus to those who have already departed he is further distanced from the furore.

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