Eckert, Garcia to meet amid FIFA probe crisis

AP News
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Posted: Nov 19, 2014 4:49 PM

GENEVA (AP) — The judge and prosecutor behind FIFA's World Cup bid corruption investigation will meet Thursday in an effort to repair their relations and restore the reputation of a case seemingly in disarray.

The whereabouts of the meeting between FIFA ethics judge Joachim Eckert and prosecutor Michael Garcia is a secret — as are, against the American lawyer's wishes, his investigation findings.

Eckert sought face-to-face talks after Garcia appealed to FIFA against the German judge's decision last Thursday to close the probe of the 2018 and 2022 bidding contests won by Russia and Qatar. The nine-candidate campaigns were dogged by allegations of bribery, favor-seeking and rule-breaking voting pacts.

Garcia claimed there were "numerous materially incomplete and erroneous representations" of his work in Eckert's 42-page summary judgment.

FIFA complicated matters Tuesday by sending Garcia's report to Switzerland's attorney general in a criminal complaint against unnamed individuals implicated in the case.

The Swiss federal prosecutor's office said Wednesday it needed at least several days to study 430 pages of reports written by Garcia and his Swiss deputy, Cornel Borbely, before taking any decision on jurisdiction.

FIFA President Sepp Blatter said Tuesday he filed the complaint at Eckert's request — though FIFA-released interviews with the two men were vague on when the advice was given amid fast-changing events.

It is also unclear what impact federal involvement could have on the Eckert-Garcia talks.

Strict Swiss privacy rules in criminal cases could give further protection against identification for current and former FIFA executive committee members targeted by Garcia.

Garcia is still building cases against FIFA voters, staffers and advisers connected to the 11 candidate countries that took part in the December 2010 elections.

The need for ongoing cooperation between Garcia and Eckert in those pending cases adds pressure on them to resolve their issues quickly.

Openly publishing which people have been charged by FIFA's ethics committee, and giving details of their alleged offenses, has been cited by Garcia since September as key to building trust and credibility in the legal process.

Garcia's push for public scrutiny is supported by the anti-corruption expert who helped FIFA appoint the ethics leaders in July 2012 to clean up the governing body's scandal-racked reputation.

"We simply have to have Garcia's text," Swiss law professor Mark Pieth told The Associated Press in a recent interview. "We don't have the underlying material and that is the problem. We can't really judge if Eckert is correct or not."

Garcia has not spoken publicly this past week, and would risk being suspended by FIFA if he reveals details of cases.

Eckert's decision did not identify any current FIFA board members, and only three who have since left FIFA and crossed Blatter on their way out, including Mohamed bin Hammam of Qatar.

Eckert also acknowledged "problematic" acts among the nine bids, but said it did not justify reviewing the victories of Russia and Qatar. Both winners have always denied any wrongdoing.

"Of course, I had hoped for more," Pieth told the AP. "I think this report seems to be all over the place rather than focusing on the issue -- 'Have these hosting issues been tampered with?'"

However, Pieth declined to criticize Eckert personally.

"I know he is not somebody you could pressurize politically," Pieth said, stressing that the veteran judge was a strong character. "But the problem is we created someone who is independent. And if I don't like the outcome, sorry, the guy is independent and you have to accept what he is doing."

Besides appealing to FIFA, Garcia could also take his case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.