Sat, Jan 12, 2013 - Page 20 News List

FIFA prosecutor kept busy cleaning up world of soccer

AP, ZURICH, SWITZERLAND

FIFA prosecutor Michael Garcia has been kept busier than he expected trying to clean up world soccer — and his workload will probably increase after a whistleblower hotline opens this month.

Garcia told reporters in an interview that FIFA investigations take “more of my time than I originally anticipated” since his appointment in July last year.

“I’m a busy man. It’s five months in and I think where we are is a very good place,” said Garcia, who completed his first case last month.

FIFA president Sepp Blatter’s former election rival, Mohamed bin Hammam, was banned for life over financial mismanagement at the Asian Football Confederation.

“Outside of FIFA, I’m happy with the fact that people more and more seem to be getting the sense that this is a place where at least you can raise something, you’ll get a hearing, you’ll be taken seriously,” he said from a Zurich hotel after attending the FIFA Player of the Year ceremony.

After the hotline is launched, Garcia may need to call on more resources from the New York office of law firm Kirkland & Ellis at which he is a partner.

“I am going to have access directly to that data and there has been training for my folks to access that,” he said.

The former US attorney, who prosecuted financial crimes on Wall Street, pledged last July to study all allegations from any source. He has powers granted under a FIFA Code of Ethics which was strengthened as part of Blatter’s promise to improve the governing body’s tattered image.

The old ethics system — seemingly disregarded by some FIFA ruling board members — could not cope with waves of bribery and corruption allegations linked to the 2018 and 2022 World Cup hosting votes, then Blatter’s election contest with bin Hammam.

FIFA’s fiercest critics wanted Garcia, a former Interpol vice president and soccer outsider, to shake up FIFA’s inner circle and scrutinize Qatar’s successful 2022 bid.

“I have applied that open-door policy consistently from day one and many people have taken advantage of it, both on the public side and inside football,” he said. “You can really go where the cases take you.”

Though the code stops him discussing ongoing work, Garcia said he has match-fixing allegations “on the radar screen,” and suggested that FIFA’s continental confederations — which closely guard their autonomy and privileges — could be in his sights.

Still, Garcia received flak that, by taking over the Asian body’s bin Hammam probe, his independence was compromised by serving the FIFA president’s vested interests. Garcia’s case report detailing “repeated” financial conflicts of interest prompted bin Hammam to resign from soccer and triggered a life ban.

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