FIFA picks US attorney as corruption prosecutor

FIFA handed former United States attorney Michael J. Garcia the

freedom to investigate any allegations of corruption in world

football by appointing him Tuesday as its first independent lead

prosecutor.

Garcia has the authority to order fresh probes into old cases,

including claims about how FIFA executive committee members awarded

the hosting rights for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.

His appointment by that same ruling board as chairman of the

prosecution unit in a revamped FIFA ethics court is seen as a

crucial step in FIFA President Sepp Blatter’s promised

anti-corruption reforms.

”The decisions of this (ethics) committee will be accepted.

There is no doubt,” Blatter said at a news conference. ”We have

to follow what they are going to find out, whenever they are going

to open cases. Now let them work.”

FIFA also selected German judge Joachim Eckert to chair the

judging chamber of its revamped, two-chamber ethics court.

Garcia and Eckert can start work now but their appointments will

be formally ratified at the next FIFA Congress, scheduled for May

2013 in Mauritius.

Garcia brings a stellar reputation to football’s embattled world

governing body. He helped prosecute and convict terrorists who

bombed the World Trade Center in 1993 while Assistant U.S. Attorney

for the Southern District of New York, and has been suggested as a

potential Director of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation.

One of his first tasks will be to inspect a Swiss court document

on a World Cup kickbacks scandal to evaluate the behavior of

Blatter and other senior FIFA officials in the affair. Former FIFA

president Joao Havelange and former 2014 World Cup organizing head

Ricardo Teixeira were finally identified last week for taking

millions of dollars in payments from now-defunct marketing agency

ISL.

”He (Garcia) will have not only to write, but the duty to have

this case analyzed on ethic, moral matters and then to report back

to the executive committee,” Blatter said.

Garcia and Eckert are regarded as key independent figures from

outside the so-called ”football family” who can help restore

FIFA’s credibility after bribery and vote-buying scandals, plus the

long-running ISL agency scandal which has tainted much of Blatter’s

14-year presidency.

FIFA agreed that no statute of limitations on bribery and

corruption claims should impede Garcia’s work, Blatter said.

Blatter’s ruling board agreed to modernize the ethics court to

prosecute cases more effectively after a panel of anti-corruption

experts advising FIFA said previous cases were ”insufficiently

investigated.”

The 13-member panel, led by Swiss law professor Mark Pieth,

wants Garcia to examine claims surrounding how Russia and Qatar

were awarded World Cup hosting rights in a December 2010 poll of

FIFA’s executive committee.

Several senior FIFA officials were reported to have received

payments or sought unethical favors from bidders, and Blatter has

acknowledged that some breached bidding rules by joining a pact to

back Qatar and the failed Spain-Portugal bid.

Garcia and Eckert had to fulfill a FIFA statute that neither

they, nor their families, had a paid connection to football in the

past four years.

They will receive the ”normal compensation and payments” –

widely reported as $500 daily expenses – for FIFA committee

positions, Blatter said.

Garcia was linked to an expected vacancy to lead the FBI last

year, before President Barack Obama extended the term of 10-year

incumbent Robert Mueller.

During the administration of President George W. Bush, Garcia

headed the 20,000-employee Immigrations and Customs Enforcement

agency in the Department of Homeland Security.

Eckert, who was a presiding state court judge in Munich, is a

specialist in high-profile bribery cases, including one which

exposed billion-dollar payments made by German telecommunications

firm Siemens.

Pieth’s group suggested four candidates for each of the

positions decided on Tuesday, including Eckert. FIFA looked

elsewhere for the nomination of Garcia, who has also served on the

board of international police agency Interpol.

FIFA declined to appoint war crimes prosecutor Luis

Moreno-Ocampo of Argentina, who was widely reported to be the

advisory panel’s preferred choice.

Blatter was repeatedly asked if he would follow calls from some

German football leaders to resign over the ISL scandal, and his

suggestion last week of suspicions surrounding how Germany won the

hosting rights for the 2006 World Cup.

”This can only be decided by the Congress,” said the

76-year-old Swiss, referring to the 209 football nations who elect

him. ”If they don’t want me any longer, I will say, `OK, I have

done my job and I will leave.”’