The Only Way is Ethics
Fifa's super-cop Michael J Garcia explains his mission to wash the corruption out of football
"The FIFA Executive Committee, chaired by President Joseph S Blatter, took another major step in its good governance process today by unanimously appointing Michael J Garcia (USA) and Hans-Joachim Eckert (Germany) as the chairmen of the Ethics Committee during its extraordinary meeting held in Zurich."
This statement, published on Fifa's website on 17 July 2012, was not greeted with wild enthusiasm by what the organisation likes to call 'the family of football'. Reactions ranged from moderate optimism (mostly in Zurich) to scepticism and even derision (almost everywhere else). How could a tainted official body be expected to fear investigations led by people of its own choosing? A number of those members of the Executive Committee who had "unanimously appointed" Garcia and Eckert had good reason to believe they'd be the first targets of a truly independent exploration of Fifa's darker side, of which new recesses seemed to be discovered at every turn. The past two years had been a tumult of scandals. Two ExCo members — Amos Adamu and Reynald Temarii — had already been suspended from all football activities following a sting operation mounted by the Sunday Times. The Qatari Mohammed bin Hammam, head of the Asian Football Confederation and would-be opponent of Sepp Blatter in the 2011 Fifa presidential election, chose to retire from football altogether after failing to fight off a series of bribery, fraud and embezzlement allegations. Accusations of vote-rigging, collusion and corruption had preceded and followed the granting of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar in December 2010. The old business of the ISL debacle1 lagged on, interminably, with no resolution in sight.
This is the landscape which Fifa's 'super-cop' Michael J Garcia discovered in July 2012, an unholy tangle of corporate dysfunctionality and plain human wickedness. He must have known, even then, that very few people expected him to be able or willing to pick up the threads that could lead to the unravelling of a rotten web. His integrity was questioned for no other reason than the belief that, to take on this impossible mission, he had to accept he would not complete it. Eckert was the requisite safe pair of hands, a man with three decades of experience in German tribunals, the current Presiding Judge of the Penal Court, Munich I, to give him his full title. Garcia was a far more controversial figure. He'd made his name as a federal prosecutor with the Office of the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York from 1992 to 2001, taking care of "high-profile cases, involving national security and complex extraterritorial issues, including the 1993 terrorist bombing of the World Trade Center and the 1998 bombing of US embassies in East Africa", to quote from the résumé that is provided by Kirkland, the legal firm of which he is now a partner. He'd also been "Vice-President of the Americas for Interpol and [...] served on Interpol's Executive Committee, the body charged with overseeing the budget and strategic direction of the organisation". The former US General Attorney (2005-2008) had been the architect of the dramatic fall of Eliot Spitzer, who was seen as a genuine contender for the US presidency in Democrat circles and resigned from his post of Governor of New York State in 2008 after a vicious battle conducted in the media as well as in the courts, which hardened the conviction of some in the US that Garcia was in bed with the outgoing Bush administration, a slick politician who'd served the neo-con agenda in order to further his own ambitions.
It should be added that Garcia is one of 18 American citizens who, since April 13 of this year, have been banned from entering the territory of the Russian Federation for alleged (and rather unclear) "human rights violations". This was a direct response from the Russian authorities to the publication of the so-called 'Magnitsky list' in the USA, which named 18 Russian citizens suspected of having played a role in the mysterious death of the lawyer and fraud investigator Sergei Magnitsky in a Moscow prison in 2009. Garcia had been targeted by the Russians for the part he played in the successful prosecution and conviction of the Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, who is currently serving a 25-year jail term for "conspiring to sell weapons to a US-designated foreign terrorist group" — the Colombian FARC, in this instance.
Not what you'd call a lightweight, then. But could he be trusted to devote the same kind of energy to flush out the slurry from within Fifa, when Fifa itself had cherry-picked him — and was footing his wage-bill?
Setting up this interview, which is published here in full and in the original English for the first time, was a time-consuming or, as Garcia would put it, "time-intensive" task. He is easy enough to get in touch with. His personal email address can be found on the Kirkland website, together with his office's direct line number. Should you wish to share any information about ISL, Russia 2018, Qatar 2022, or any other matter which touches on violations of Fifa's Ethics Code, you know where to go. But, apart from a brief appearance on German television in the summer of 2012, Garcia had politely declined all the media requests that had come his way since his nomination — until he agreed to have lunch with us in a Zurich restaurant. In this case, the game-changer was the publication by France Football, on 29 January 2013, of a dossier which dealt in great detail with the particulars of the choice of Qatar as a World Cup host nation for the 2022 tournament. Garcia had the whole dossier translated, found some of it of interest, consented to a meeting on the basis (or so we felt) that we — that is my colleague Eric Champel and myself — would tell him viva voce more about the information we'd gathered, and how, and from whom, than we could print; in exchange for which we hoped he'd speak to us on the record. 'Hoped', not 'knew', or 'expected', which might explain why it was with some trepidation that we sat down and waited for our guest. He was flying direct that morning from the USA, which was hit by a bout of cold weather. To our horror, it was so severe that a number of airports and all government offices in Washington DC were shut down; the CNN domestic news bulletins I watched throughout a sleepless night seemed to consist entirely of reports by snow-choked journalists whose overcoats were flapping in a howling wind. Would he turn up? But at 12:30 on the dot, just as the bells of a nearby church rang, Garcia walked in, dressed like an up-dated, upmarket version of Frankie Valli. The handshake was warm, the conversation quickfire yet unhurried. For two and a half hours we listened to him, and this is what we heard.
How would you define your role and the exact nature of your mission?
My role is clearly defined. I've got to investigate the conduct of football people and see if it violates or has violated the [Fifa] governance codes — now or at the time when the violations would have taken place.
Where have you got to with your inquiry into the ISL affair?
If we're talking about ISL, that's slightly different. That's something that landed on my desk the day that I took up my position. I've got to look into the dismissal order of the criminal investigation on Fifa, Teixeira and Havelange and make a report. I've got to take that in it as I'd take in whatever else that might raise the question: "Have there been violations in the conduct of these people?" I have to follow the normal process and report to Judge Eckert, who's the chair of the adjudication chamber; according to the parameters of the code. I'll go to him, he'll read my report and take his decisions. I'll follow the process in this case, while obviously informing the Executive Committee of what I'm doing. I've spent a lot of time lately looking at the facts to see what happened. Who's involved? Have there been violations? There are many other public cases under investigation, like the one on the [vote for the 2018 and 2022] World Cups, which has been referred to me formally.
"Formally", so you're confirming that?
Yes, and it's open. That's the message I'm trying to get across, and I believe that it's very important. This is the time for folks — whoever they are — who have information to come to me. I haven't got any preconceived ideas on what happened or did not happen. Everything is wide open. Sometimes, you hear a lot of talk from people saying they've "got something on this, or they might know that." Well [I'm saying to them], if you truly believe it, the moment has come to show yourself. There are things that we can do under the code that will protect your anonymity. I will work with people on that front.
What I think would be… not helpful is if this review goes forward on that broad area of the bidding [for organising the World Cups of 2018 and 2022], then afterwards, somebody says, "Well, they got the facts wrong," when they knew that before. You know something? Tell me! I'm working, working hard to uncover what's there or isn't there. This is the form, the venue people have got to come forward to if they really think they have something to say. On any side of any issue! On some aspect of some question related to the World Cup. And I believe it's a message that should be out there. People have talked, written articles but what you have now is an official body which is in charge of this case and it's important that people go see me to tell me what they have.
It's a very new role for me. I've been a federal prosecutor, where I had a very wide authority. I could requisition documents or subpoena witnesses before a grand jury, sign search warrants; I had lots of powers for obtaining information. That's one of the most rewarding things about being a prosecutor in the US, you can use lots of tools to understand what's happened. When I've worked for private companies, generally, I had access to that company's documents, to their employees, to their email systems, etc, all that was at my disposal. It's not the same scope but… it's pretty good.
And in your current role?
Officials in football have an obligation to talk to the adjudication chamber and to establish the facts. They have an obligation to give me records but what I have understood, when it comes to Fifa, as you know well, is that Fifa doesn't function like a big multinational corporation, with one database, one [central] document archive system. It's [an aggregator] of a bunch of confederations and associations, of different personal email systems… It's an honour system almost, when you go outside of Fifa. People who are outside of football, they haven't got any obligation to talk to me. When you go out of Fifa itself and you say, "OK, give me your bank records, give me your personal emails," how do I check if there are other accounts, other email addresses? It's really more difficult. So, when I speak to people and these people are in football, I ask them questions, because there is an obligation [for them] to respond and it would be a breach of the code if they didn't do it. They've got to meet me, speak to me, answer the inquiry commission to establish the facts. And that is good. When it comes to people who aren't in the football world itself, then… I've worked as a prosecutor overseas where I had no authority; we're in the same way of working, we're trying, by various means that you [journalists] all use regularly so that people talk to you [smiles]. We ask questions, it doesn't hurt to ask them, and, sometimes, someone will talk to you.
You've opened a line of communication, open to everyone, which allows people to come to you in complete confidence, knowing that their anonymity will be protected, that sources will not be revealed. Without revealing confidential details, has this initiative been followed by results?
Yes. Yes. Yes, to the extent that people have reached out to me and that some — not all — have been… the best way to describe what I've obtained up to now, it's that I've been sent information of a general character, but also very specific information. And that's really a matter [for me], as for you, to look at your sources and at the 'angles', and I'd tell you there are a lot of angles in this case… After which it's up to you to build something around what people are telling you. This process has started. And there are people [who have come to me] who, I believe, have really wanted to try to be helpful and give me information. We are still at an early stage. To be honest, there has been truly a lot of work for me…
What collaboration have you received from Fifa and…?
[He cuts in] The independent governance commission is also interested in that. In fairness, I would say I've obtained the resources I have asked for and I thought I'd need. I haven't had an issue from that side. Investigating these questions requires an enormous amount of work. It's documents-intensive, travel-intensive, doing lots of interviews. Like when I was a prosecutor, or when I was working for private companies, you have to be very meticulous in the details because that's where you make or break a case. And I've needed assistance for that. I have used people on the inside, I have used external investigators, law firms, in Switzerland and in other countries…
You've used external investigators?
Oh, yes, obviously! I used external investigators, independent lawyers, experts in different legal frameworks, for example, Swiss law. And in all that, there was never an issue when I felt I needed something. There haven't been any disagreements, [comments like], "No, that's expensive." To be thorough, you have to see witnesses, face to face; of course you can speak on the telephone but for real detail, you've got to have them with you, you've got to travel, you've got to review documents [in situ]… and you can have people who do that for you. To do it all alone is impossible. It would take too long. It's time-intensive and costly. Myself, I've spent a lot a time on that [laughs]…
More than you expected?
More than I expected! [laughs]. Listen, this is very important, very interesting work. But I've had the support and the resources I've needed.
Have you been supported by Fifa itself? By Blatter in person?
In a general way. I haven't been in personal contact with the Fifa president. I am in contact with his secretariat, which, by virtue of the code, supports my chamber [of investigation]. When I need to communicate, I generally go through them and, once again, I have never had the slightest issue when I've needed this or that. In fact, they have even been proactive in suggesting, for example, "You need a Swiss lawyer for that," etc. If they had had an issue, it could've been a game-changer. That wouldn't work. I want this to work, and I repeat, "OK, I'm here, perhaps I'll do nothing, but I will certainly listen to whomever who, on whatever subject it might be, says something that is relevant to my jurisdiction." That new whistleblower line is a very good thing. A vast majority of [what we are learning] through that line of access is not relevant to the jurisdiction of the ethics commission, and certain things can be referred to other places, but… it's one more line that people can use to get to my chamber, so we can look into what they have to say — and I look at every single thing. I have a direct access to that system.
Some will say, "That's all fine, but it's a way of pretending that something really is being done, and…"
[He cuts in] One of the keys to that system is that what I've wanted was to have direct access. It's not like I was making a report that I'd deliver to Fifa asking them, "OK, there's what's come across my desk, what do you want to do now?" I am in the system. And every day — every day! — I'm looking into information, I'm asking myself questions, "Do I refer this to the commission, do I need more information?" Every day. At the beginning we were inundated, people who all sent the same things, but those kinks got worked out over time. It's working well.
Let's talk about these investigations. For the ISL one, as Winston Churchill put it, you're "at the end of the beginning…"
A very good quotation!
…but also working in parallel on the investigations into the award of the World Cup [hosting rights]. The one for 2022, have you got the information together, and how much time will that investigation take?
Very good question. It's a drawn out process, and that depends on what we were talking about before. How much information is still out there? How many people will be proactive and come to me? On the other side, have I got to decide to take the time to travel and convince people they've got to talk? The subject itself is complex. I believe that it's a good opportunity for everyone, everyone will do well out of it. I honestly haven't got any preconceived ideas. As you know when you talk to the people about the  World Cup, they have pretty strong views... or interests. One or the other. Not me. I haven't got a single opinion on subjects such as the date when it has got to take place, etc. But I will listen to everything and I will examine all the information with the same impartiality, whether it comes from the US, from Qatar, from Russia, from Australia. My view remains the same. "What happened? Where were there issues, if there were any? Have they violated the Code?" That is the first of the priorities. And then also to examine certain subjects that you've mentioned in your investigation — were they close [to a breach of the Code]? And is that a problem related to the structure that existed at the time? And has that been considered in the reform efforts? I think that all these questions are very interesting but my top priority is obviously to determine if there have been, or not, breaches of the Ethics Code by football officials.
Who are the people who've helped you in your daily work? Other employees from your law firm Kirkland, for example?
I use some of them. It's fluid. It depends. And there is a subject that I find very interesting, that we haven't spoken about — match-fixing.
Are you taking care of that too?
It could be a full-time business! In general terms, I'd say that in terms of jurisdiction, it's common ground with the Security Division [of Fifa]. They take care of players, referees; myself, of officials, of the associations… To me it's a fascinating subject in which I would like to involve myself more, and I've started to do that, but I have time imperatives. I need more leverage, I've called on Kirkland people who can serve me as lieutenants. I'm using Chief Justice Robert Torres [a former Guam judge], who is also a member of Fifa's Ethics Commission and who's helped me. He is very good. [I've also called] other lawyers, people who are specialists in technology, people who have the knowhow that I don't have myself. And external investigators, who are very important, because they are doing specific things which, for us others — lawyers, law firms — aren't really our 'thing'. If you have a laptop, and you try to extract [the data it contains], and there are things that are relevant to a specific expertise, even in a law firm, we contract that out, people on the outside. I do that, and then I use it if I can. You have your investigators who can say, "This is how we have obtained these documents, these came from this server," or who help you know what this witness said or didn't say. You don't want to spread it too widely, since I want to keep control of everything which comes in to us. I try to do as much as I can, but I have to pick my shot.
And then there's the Fifa congress in Mauritius starting on 31 May. Could that be an opportunity of a new 'end of the beginnning' as far as the World Cup investigations are concerned? Or is that too early?
It's too early… Listen, that's a nice marker out there. It would be good if we can make it, but it's too early for me to say that I'm fixing myself a date like that. I hope that significant progress will have been made, one way or another. But I haven't got any idea today where we will be. Or not. But I hope that we will at least have made significant progress on the direction [we're taking], that there will be a crystallisation of specific problems, on which we will be able to concentrate, because we could sit here talking about issues… until the end of the weekend. One part of the work of a good investigative journalist, or of an investigator is, yes, to have all the facts in mind, but also to have in your mind where you would like to go. To know what you've got to do to get there, yes? Whatever the date you want to set or whatever. When I have encountered problems of this kind before, it's because of [the impossibility of] doing that. Because then, you're constantly looking at the whole field without breaking it down and that's terribly ineffective. I hope that with this 'funnel' for [new] information [Garcia is referring to the whistleblower line] we can do this work on the mapping.
So you haven't got a fixed calendar, no deadline? Your contract is up at the end of May, yes?
[Laughs] That's not up to me, right? That's up to the [Fifa] Congress to decide. Listen, I believe that there is a lot of work to be done, and it'll be a busy time. Where we will be at the end of May… I've never been to a Fifa congress, so…
Has it been a surprise for you, a lawyer, to come into the football world and see its controversies, its complexities, its universality?
I understood that football was much more important outside the US than inside. I'd been told that. But there was a big difference between hearing something and seeing it with your own eyes. So, yes, it's been somewhat of a surprise to see the attention that what I am doing brings, or what the Ethics Commission is doing. That's true. But I was at the Ballon d'Or gala and it was so nice to see the beauty of the game, the most beautiful goals, the best players, [I could] feel what people love and admire in this sport, I'm watching football now, my daughter plays… and it's great to see that.
But have you got the feeling of an adherence to the reform process right at the heart of Fifa?
Look, I think there's been a lot of good work done in the reform process. I do. I believe it's hard to generalise when we're talking about the position of Fifa because there are different personalities, different approaches at the heart of the organisation. The thing I feel confident talking about is the way in which I've been received and how I've been supported; and the key point for me, is resources [put at my disposal] where it's black and white. Without the resources, you could do all you want, set up all the commissions you want, for nothing. Today I have all the resources I need. I know that there is a whole range of reform propositions but I'm not that knowledgeable on that subject, on who is from what side. What I see is my role in that reform process and to me it's received the support [I wanted].
There are people who have called into question your independence at Fifa. Are you truly independent?
Yes, absolutely. And that's very interesting. I hear the criticism: "How can you be independent when you are paid by Fifa?" Well, that's not such an unusual thing in the US. In the US, when a company gets into trouble, we call for an external audit, generally under an agreement passed by the government. This auditor will be completely independent and, generally will report to the government — but he'll be paid by the company. It's certainly not the government who pays for an independent auditor, OK? [Laughs] The key isn't the paystream, it's the audit. Is there a pole that information is made to flow towards, unaudited by the business in question? And, in this case, under the Code, this audit, I've gotten it, just like Hans-Joachim Eckert. It's we who take our decisions together, it's he who gives the ultimate verdict on penalties. My connection with Fifa is the same as an [external] administrator's would be. I use them sometimes to get messages out, or when I can have access to the original [documents] in an investigation, or when I need to reimburse the expenses of an investigator or a lawyer. But there is no supervision of what I do. I am really independent of that organisation. I think that it's not such a strange relationship as all that, seen from an American perspective rather than a European one or the rest of the world, because there are a bunch of cases of this type [in the US].
But where's Sepp Blatter in all this? Does he want to hear what you have to say on Qatar, on Russia?
That's a question… I'll go back to what's my role here: I don't deal with Blatter on that level. I do not report to him. He doesn't talk to me about what I'm doing. I couldn't tell you anything, in one sense or another, on these subjects because we haven't got this kind of interaction. He's kept himself — appropriately — out of my sphere. He is the president of Fifa, he does what he does. I have met him perhaps… once in the first three months of my job.
And if you have concrete information to communicate on the award of the 2006, 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Germany, Russia and Qatar, you will put that on the table?
Without the slightest hesitation?
Absolutely. Here's the thing: I will put what I have, or what I don't have , on the table, all right? It's not like I've had this idea, "What's in the past is done," and whatever I find, I will put on the table, which will confirm it. I will put on the table what we find and what we haven't found. And I believe that it's in everyone's interest. A fair look. Hard look, but fair look... By listening to everyone, and by making a fair evaluation.
On what basis will you make your recommendations?
I'll send everything to Mr Eckert and there you are. I've got a very good relationship with him. I didn't know him at all before. Obviously, he has a terrific background, he occupies a very prestigious position. He works very hard and he is genuinely interested in the reform process, making this work. We aren't in contact day to day. He isn't directly involved [in my work]; he takes the ultimate decision. If this is proved, what am I going to do? What will be the sanctions? That's his call. It's gone very well. The Code is… very good. In terms of process, it's specific. When I came in, I thought that we would have to set aside time to build a process around the Code, that we would spend a month or two for that to work. And that didn't happen. We were off and running from day one.
Yes. We got into it from the first day, into precise cases. The structure has really come together to support that code. There will always be someone who will disagree with you, who will think you're crazy because you did this or crazy because you didn't do it. I accept that. I've accepted that throughout my career. What counts is that you have to have faith in the process, whether you will agree with its result or not; that you will be convinced that it's not corrupt or submitted to influence, from one side or another, to pressure to not do something when you have evidence, and that you have relationships in place, or a conflict of interest, or pressure to do something when there is an expectation. "Oh, it's so clearly so, if you didn't do something…" You've got to put these things aside. And you [journalists] are very important in all that. There are so many people who are looking for signs, who read you, and who have got to have confidence in the process even if they think, "This bloke ought to have been charged," etc, but, at least, the process works.
Is it conceivable that with the evidence you have gathered, the 2022 World Cup won't take place in Qatar?
I know everybody is very interested in that. But I think, and I think that Judge Eckert would say as well, that our jurisdiction is limited to people. So... the only thing that we can do is say, "You, football official, violated this provision of the Ethics Code and you, football official, are going to suffer this sanction2." But that's only as to people. That what we can do, right? Those decisions, on the venue of the World Cup, you know, that's outside the jurisdiction of the Ethics Commission. That's just a completely different process. Otherwise, it may be a particularly interesting issue, but it's not for me or Judge Eckert, and that's the bottom line of how that process works.