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Foul Play! Anatomy of a FIFA Whitewash
Football, Issue 1380
IT’s pass-the-toxic-“ethics”-parcel time again at Fifa’s glass palace above Zürich. President Sepp Blatter’s latest hired investigator has overdone his exoneration of Fifa’s venal leaders over claims they solicited bribes from Qatar and Russia. As the world hoots, the scandal officially closed two weeks ago has been reopened.

The “re-examination” of the evidence by Domenico Scala, a former CEO recruited from Big Pharma, will be in secret, as is the Fifa way. It will also lack the help of his colleague on Fifa’s audit committee, Cayman’s Canover Watson, who was charged last week with corruption, fraud and money laundering.

How did it all go so wrong for Blatter? His tame “investigator”, former New York prosecutor Michael Garcia, had successfully produced a secret whitewash in 2013, clearing Blatter of involvement in the notorious $100m scandal of kickbacks to Fifa’s leaders from a Swiss marketing company. In issue 1367, Columbia University professor Scott Horton told the Eye: “The one thing that could be predicted with utter confidence on the basis of Garcia’s professional career is that he would zealously protect whoever appointed him and paid his bills. He might actually go after corrupt figures, but only to the extent it served the agenda of the person who appointed him.”

But Garcia was too zealous this time, producing an “investigation” so generous to the Fifa crooks the FBI has been provoked to step up its own inquiries into Fifa money laundering and corruption.

Garcia had submitted his report in September, knowing Blatter would bury it. Garcia and the “Fifa family” had approved Blatter’s 2012 “ethics code” that rules out publication – and which cannot be changed unless the Blatter-controlled Fifa congress alters the rules in six months’ time.

Patently absurd
Garcia can’t want the report published because his absolution of Qatar, Russia and Fifa’s executive committee is patently absurd. Bribes are traditionally solicited by Fifa’s leaders when choosing World Cup hosts and the old boys created a double payday when they decided to award two tournaments at once in December 2010. As former FA chair Lord Triesman revealed in parliament in 2011, four members of Fifa’s executive committee tried to get cash or other benefits from the England bid.

So what lies behind Garcia’s unexpected complaint that Munich judge Hans-Joachim Eckert, tasked with reducing the 430-page report to a manageable 42 pages, had misrepresented his “investigation”?

The wheels came off for Blatter and Garcia on 2 November when the New York Daily News revealed that former Fifa executive committee member, American Chuck Blazer, was a co-operating witness with an FBI Fifa corruption investigation and had worn a wire at the 2012 Olympics, entrapping Fifa officials. Blazer is most likely to know who took bribes and where they were banked.

If the Feds indict any Fifa leaders, Garcia’s reputation will be destroyed. But it was too late to withdraw his whitewash report. How to head off global ridicule?

Few have more experience of stealing from Fifa
Three days later, the sports pages of the New York Times, which a year ago had certified Blatter corruption-free, rode to the rescue. Having missed the FBI story, it hired ageing English football hack Rob Hughes to play it down, reporting from faraway London that Blazer was only a “bit player in the bigger world of soccer corruption”. The FBI doesn’t share that view; indeed, few have more experience of stealing from Fifa than Blazer.

Then, on 6 November, the NY Times sports section published a classic blow job piece hailing Garcia’s skills as a prosecutor. The headline, “Secret Fifa Report Stirs Dispute Between Investigators”, signalled Garcia’s attempt to distance himself from his report. Readers were told “he had written a report that he expected would eventually be made public, in the spirit of transparency”. Garcia had been shackled by fuddy-duddy Judge Eckert, a prisoner of European confidentiality.

Blatter, knowing Garcia was now semi-detached, told his longtime media fixer Peter Hargitay (Eyes passim) to set the agenda for BBC Sport. The earliest advance copies of Judge Eckert’s summary were sent there and, as instructed, the boot went into the England FA (who’d fired “consultant” Hargitay in 2008 when he asked for £4m in cash to bribe Fifa officials to give England the 2018 World Cup – see Eye 1278) and Fifa’s leaders were cleared of taking kickbacks.

Churned out the Hargitay briefing
The BBC Sport website is trusted worldwide and control of its output is essential to Blatter’s survival. BBC Sport’s compliant reporter Richard Conway churned out the Hargitay briefing, soon joined by new sports editor Dan Roan. Britain’s well-rewarded Fifa vice-president and Blatter loyalist, Ulsterman Jim Boyce, announced the affair was closed. It became the Fifa story du jour – for three hours. Then Garcia struck. He condemned Eckert’s summary, saying it “contains numerous materially incomplete and erroneous representations”.

The suggestion that this example of German judicial rectitude would not accurately distil Garcia’s investigation-lite is risible. Eckert, knifed in the back, replied meekly: “A lot of my report was word for word from the Garcia report.” But that was the wrong story for the football hacks. A man who didn’t speak English was far easier pickings than American Garcia, who they had been told was a top corruption buster.

Garcia even went out of his way to disrupt the FBI investigation. He interviewed former Qatar bid employee Phaedra Almajid, who claims to have witnessed three of Fifa’s leaders negotiating multi-million dollar bribes with Qatari officials.

In Eye 1368, we reported that once Doha had coerced her into retracting her evidence, former BBC Sports editor David Bond was given the world exclusive that she had lied. Bond and BBC Sport executives swallowed this fantasy, not bothering to interview her at her home in America and dismissing allegations that the Gulf billionaires paid bribes. This has hampered attempts by other BBC reporters to unravel how a broiling strip of Gulf sand could acquire a World Cup.

Ms Almajid has been extensively debriefed by the FBI on the bribery and coercion, but using her crucial evidence in a US court will now be problematic. Garcia, in a boost to Blatter’s hopes of escaping a federal indictment, declared he had “serious concerns about the individual’s credibility”.

The Hargitay and Conway version of Garcia’s sweetheart “investigation” led all BBC bulletins. BBC News boss James Harding lost patience with Bond sucking up to Blatter, and must now be wondering who he can trust at BBC Sport.

More top stories in the latest issue:

Ukip claims to be campaigning for radical change from corporatist politics but it’s awash with corporate cash.

Banking exodus from the UK looks unlikely despite EU bonus cap.

The onslaught on “zero zero” Britain misses two of the biggest tax zeros at the very top.

Who exactly is out of touch, as the Daily Mail places the Rochester constituency in, er, Essex?

Does giving video bloggers a peek at PR man Matthew Freud’s immense wealth really help sell the Band Aid 30 message?

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