By Paul Nicholson
May 15 – Timing is everything in football and there would have been a few ironic smiles at the weekend when it was announced in the US that Judge Michael J. Garcia of the New York Court of Appeals was one of four candidates being interviewed for the role of FBI Director to replace the ousted James Comey.
Garcia was head of FIFA Ethics’ investigatory chamber before handing over to his number two Cornel Borbely who was unceremoniously dumped last week by Gianni Infantino.
Garcia resigned in December 2014 over what he said was the smothering of his report about corruption in the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bid process. In his resignation statement he said that FIFA was incapable of reforming from within – perhaps prophetic in light of the Bahrain Congress circus led by ringmaster in chief Gianni Infantino – and that “no independent governance committee, investigator or arbitration panel can change the culture of an organisation.”
Not an encouraging statement, and now a potentially scary one for FIFA if he gets the FBI Director’s job.
Garcia spent two years investigating the 2018 and 2022 bids which resulted in a 450-page report that he said uncovered “serious and wide-ranging issues”. It was the editing of that report by FIFA’s head judge Hans-Joachim Eckert that caused him to resign. Garcia felt that the edit had misrepresented his findings and that the whole report should have been made public, or at least available to the whole of the FIFA executive committee at that time.
Since then many of the people identified but not named in the edited report have been brought to justice via FIFA’s ethics process, but there has been no ‘smoking gun’ that would force the removal of the World Cup from Russia or Qatar. Or it has been covered up.
If chosen as head of the FBI, Garcia would likely have an appetite to return to FIFA and finish off the job he started, perhaps even up the ante – though with the US in prime position for the 2026 World Cup (with minor roles for Mexico and Canada) there may be a preference to stick with current US national interests and not rock that boat. In many ways that decision would be an ethical dilemma if he was a judge – but perhaps not as head of the FBI.
Garcia has been an associate judge on the Court of Appeals since 2016, and has federal experience under the Bush and Clinton administrations, specialising in terrorism prosecutions and immigration. He successfully tried high-profile terrorism cases before 9/11, including the bombings of the World Trade Center in 1993 and the U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998. He served as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District between 2005-2008, when he left for private practice and it was during this time he took up the FIFA role before retunring to private practice in the US and subsequently taking a seat at the bench.
Garcia would of course have bigger FBI fish to fry than FIFA. And he still has to get the FBI job. But even so, there will likely be some sleepless nights, especially if he got the job and persuaded his former deputy Cornel Borbely (now without portfolio) to come on board as a consultant. That would send shivers down a lot of FIFA spines.
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