GENEVA — FIFA will further review the 2018 and 2022 World Cup corruption investigation, putting the status of hosts Russia and Qatar back in question.
The head of FIFA’s auditing committee will examine the full 430-page confidential report by American prosecutor Michael Garcia into impropriety during the bid process, reviving a probe which seemed closed one week ago.
Domenico Scala, a Swiss businessman who serves as the soccer body’s audit panel Chairman, will then decide whether to turn over any evidence to FIFA’s executive committee.
The decision to hand over the documents to Scala came a week after FIFA ethics judge Joachim Eckert ruled that the case against Russia and Qatar was closed.
Within hours of the German judge’s decision being published, Garcia appealed to FIFA, objecting to “numerous materially incomplete and erroneous representations” of his work.
That led to a meeting in Zurich on Nov. 20 between Eckert and Garcia, whose appeal appears to still be active.
The pair “agreed that it is of major importance that the FIFA Executive Committee has the information necessary to evaluate which steps are required based on the work done by the FIFA Ethics Committee,” they said in the statement.
“The chairmen also offered to answer any questions the chairman of the Audit and Compliance Committee and the Executive Committee might have.”
The FIFA executive committee will next meet Dec. 18-19 in Marrakech, Morocco, with 12 of its 25 elected members having voted in the scandal-plagued December 2010 hosting elections.
Some of those 12 have been formally charged by Garcia with wrongdoing linked to campaigns dogged by allegations of bribery, favor-seeking and collusion, and an investigation hampered by uncooperative witnesses.
“The investigatory chamber has already opened a number of formal cases against individuals,” the joint statement from Garcia and Eckert said, without identifying names or detailed allegations.
The suspects could include staffers from the nine bid candidates.
In Morocco, the board chaired by FIFA President Sepp Blatter could discuss relaxing secrecy rules and the strength of evidence presented by Garcia.
On Nov. 13, Eckert’s summary of the investigative report judged that any corrupt acts did not justify re-opening the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 tournaments.
FIFA at first welcomed a “degree of closure” in Eckert’s ruling that corruption across the 11 bidding nations was “of very limited scope.”
However, FIFA stepped up scrutiny of the case Nov.19 by filing a criminal complaint with Switzerland’s Attorney General against possible law-breaking by unnamed individuals.
Swiss federal prosecutors are now studying Garcia’s investigation report, which remains sealed by FIFA’s code of ethics.
Garcia’s own prosecutions of FIFA voters and officials will not be affected by parallel work being done by the Swiss federal agency, nor by Scala, according to the statement.
Scala will step into the heart of the corruption case after more than two years monitoring FIFA’s billion-dollar annual revenue.
He has evaluated deals with FIFA commercial partners, blocked grants to FIFA member federations and stopped bonuses to executive committee members, while also doubling their annual stipend to a reported $200,000.
Scala and Garcia worked together in June when deciding that FIFA board members should not be allowed to accept luxury Swiss watches offered by a World Cup sponsor.
Previously, Scala has said the World Cup corruption investigation should have the power to remove a host if compelling evidence was found.
The Russian and Qatari bid committees have always denied wrongdoing and have pledged to continue their World Cup hosting plans, costing tens of billions of dollars.
But the intrigue and disarray that has often marked the 2018 and 2022 World Cup saga continued on Nov. 20.
Even as Garcia and Eckert appeared to mend their professional rift, tensions seemed to show between the prosecutor and FIFA over publicizing the meeting.
A bland, brief statement on FIFA’s website simply noted that the two lawyers met at FIFA headquarters. Within 15 minutes, a statement from law firm Kirkland & Ellis, where Garcia is a partner in its New York office, invited reporters to ask FIFA for the approved version signed off by him and Eckert.
That statement duly followed about 30 minutes later. After seven days of turmoil for FIFA, the next executive board meeting will come in four weeks in Morocco on the sidelines of the Club World Cup.
Blatter has long said that only his executive committee, which chose the two World Cup hosts, can decide to make any changes. That chance, however unlikely, could arise in Marrakech.
(GRAHAM DUNBAR, AP Sports Writer)