3 Jun 2014

Will Fifa investigator examine new bribery claims?

Michael Garcia’s investigation into the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bids will be completed next week. The question now is whether he will look at new bribery allegations.

Michael Garcia's investigation into the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bids will be completed next week. The question now is whether he will look at new bribery allegations (Reuters)

Fifa Secretary General Jerome Valcke refused to comment on Tuesday when he was asked about the Sunday Times’ claims that former Fifa official Mohammed bin Hammam, a Qatari, paid £3m to Fifa delegates to win their support for Qatar’s successful bid to host the 2022 World Cup.

Mr Valcke was quizzed as he was opening the international broadcast centre in Rio de Janeiro ahead of the World Cup in Brazil, which begins in 10 days.

Fifa’s ethics investigator Michael Garcia, a partner in the US law firm Kirkland and Ellis, has been carrying out an inquiry into the 2022 bid, as well as Russia’s successful bid to host the 2018 tournament.

He met 2022 bid chiefs in Oman on Monday, the day after the Sunday Times’ latest claims, and said after the meeting that his inquiry would be completed by 9 June, with his report published by mid-July.

This has led to speculation that he will not be studying the documents obtained by the Sunday Times, and his company said it had no further information when Channel 4 News emailed on Tuesday.

‘Ethics and integrity’

Qatar insists that that Mr Bin Hammam was not involved in its bid. The emirate’s bid committee said it “always upheld the highest standard of ethics and integrity”, adding: “We are cooperating fully with Mr Garcia’s on-going investigation and remain totally confident that any objective inquiry will conclude we won the bid to host the 2022 Fifa World Cup fairly.”

Mr Bin Hammam was banned from world football in 2011 following allegations he had bribed Fifa delegates to vote for him in elections for the Fifa presidency.

If he finds Qatar’s bid for 2022 was corrupt, Mr Garcia would not be able to order a re-vote, but Fifa President Sepp Blatter would come under pressure to do so. If this happens, it is thought that Australia, which won just one vote to host the competition during elections in 2010, could try again.

French connection

Uefa President Michel Platini has also been dragged into the affair, with the Daily Telegraph reporting that he had a "secret meeting" with Mr Bin Hammam shortly before Qatar was chosen.

The newspaper said Mr Bin Hammam personally lobbied Mr Platini to support the bid. Mr Platini has confirmed that he voted for Qatar to host the World Cup.

Mr Platini said on Tuesday: "I find it incredible that talks with a Fifa executive committee member colleague at the time can be transformed into a state conspiracy. I certainly met Mr Mohamed Bin Hammam several times in 2010 as we were both of us executive committee members since 2002.

"In these conversations, the object of the discussions was the candidacy for the Fifa presidency. Mr Bin Hammam was in fact seeking to convince me to stand for the Fifa presidency in the 2011 elections."

But now its position has been called into question by Bonita Mersiades, former head of corporate affairs at the Australian Football Federation (FFA), who said her country’s grants to overseas football bodies also needed to be examined.

She told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation: “That was via the government. In and of itself there was nothing wrong with sports development projects, but the question for Michael Garcia was, was there a vote attached to it? If the answer to that is yes, then it’s very hard to argue that that activity is very much different from what Bin Hammam is alleged to have been doing.”

The FFA dismissed Ms Mersiades’s argument, saying that its support for overseas projects in the run-up to the 2022 bid was in line with Fifa guidelines and that its backing for a “centre of excellence” in the Caribbean was a “matter of public record”.