News 18th November 2014

FIFA ‘Whistleblowers’ complain over FIFA’s handling of their evidence


Two ‘whistleblowers’ who gave evidence to the FIFA Ethics Committee investigation into the 2018/22 World Cup bidding process have complained about how FIFA’s summary of the Ethics Committee report handled their provision of evidence. Phaedra Al-Majid and Bonita Mersiades are both understood to have written to Michael Garcia, Chairman of the Investigatory Chamber of the FIFA Ethics Committee, about how the summary of the full report made a point about stating that their evidence had been discounted, enabling them to be targeted through the media.

‘Any potential breach of confidentiality committed by a member of the FIFA Ethics Committee should be examined by the FIFA Disciplinary Committee’, said FIFA spokesperson Delia Fischer in an e-mailed statement, referring to Article 36, paragraph 3 of the FIFA Code of Ethics. ‘Thus, we cannot prejudice any decision that said Committee could take in this or any similar situation. However, names of witnesses have not been disclosed in the statement of the Chairman of the Adjudicatory Chamber of the FIFA Ethics Committee to protect their personality rights. Furthermore, the discussion and the public letter by Phaedra Al-Majid and Bonita Mersiades underline exactly the confidentiality issue concerning any of the witnesses when talking about a publishing of the full report.’

The statement of the Chairman of the Adjudicatory Chamber of the FIFA Ethics Committee, Hans Joachim Eckert, was released on 13 November. It does not name either Al-Majid or Mersiades, who worked on the Qatar and Australia bids respectively. However, in relation to Qatar’s bid, it mentions ‘serious concerns about the individual’s credibility’, as the individual had ‘made public allegations and then retracted those allegations in a sworn statement. That statement described a motive – revenge against a bid team it felt it had been rejected by – that seemed consistent with its actions’. As such, ‘the Investigatory Chamber has not relied on any information or material it received from [the] individual concerned’.

In 2011, Al-Majid signed a legal affidavit retracting her statement, which makes it easy to identify her as the person FIFA is referring to above. However, she has said  that she only agreed to the retraction as the Qatar organising committee had threatened her with legal action for breaching her confidentiality clause to them, unless she signed a sworn statement retracting the allegations. ‘As I have explained to you and your colleagues, confidentiality was crucial to my cooperation with your investigation, considering my personal circumstances, particularly the safety of my two sons and me’, she wrote in a letter to Garcia. ‘Not only was Herr Eckert’s summary a crude, cynical and fundamentally erroneous description of me and the information and materials I provided your investigation, it directly breached FIFA’s assurances of my confidentiality’.

In its comments on Australia’s bid, FIFA’s summary report said that a ‘former senior member of the Australia 2022 bid team’ had ‘undermined its own reliability by speaking with the press about its communications with the Investigatory Chamber, despite having agreed to refrain from doing so’, and that ‘given these circumstances, the Investigatory Chamber of the FIFA Ethics Committee has not relied on any statement, document or other information provided by the relevant individual’.

In a statement, Mersiades said: ‘It is disappointing that the summary report makes untrue and gratuitous allegations about myself. Mr. Eckert, the Judge employed and paid by FIFA, states – without providing any justification – that my evidence was not “relied” upon for the purposes of the Report unless the same was also corroborated by another source. However, the findings set out in the summary report about Australia’s bid attest specifically to the contrary. The summary report is consistent with my evidence.’

Although FIFA could argue that the whistleblowers’ confidentiality had already been compromised, Mersiades questioned why the summary report felt the need to comment on why it had rejected their evidence, when it had already discounted it. ‘It says much about Fifa and those inside its tent that it felt it necessary to engage in a denigration of the two women who had been courageous enough to say something’, she wrote in an article for The Guardian. ‘It is one thing to discount our discussions and the evidence – an investigator is entitled to do that – but it is extraordinary to single out two individuals and detail (mostly incorrectly) the contact with Garcia, especially when we were assured in writing and in person that our dealings with him were confidential. The question is why? In my case I know that Fifa and Fifa insiders are very aware that I have written a book – The Bid: Secrets of the Battle to Host the World Cup, not yet published – about the bid, as Fifa staff have asked me about it. In Phaedra’s case she is familiar with the Qatar 2022 bid.’

UK MP Damian Collins has asked Al-Majid and Mersiades to be part of a FIFA reform conference in Brussels in January – details on this are still emerging. Calls are also growing for FIFA to take action over the uncertainty surrounding the full report. “While I do not challenge the autonomy of sports organisations, I believe it’s time for FIFA to put all its cards on the table in order to remove doubts about the report’s findings”, EU Commissioner for Sport Tibor Navracsics told the Financial Times.

Dr. Reinhard Rauball, President of the Deutscher Fußball Liga, called for the Report to be published in full. “Not only must the decision of the Ethics Committee be published, but also the indictment of Mr. Garcia to make it clear what the charges were tried and how they were judged”, he told Kicker magazine. “Also, what has not been evaluated and whether it was justified to omit those things – that must be made public. Only then can FIFA face its complete loss of credibility. If that does not happen and this crisis is not resolved credibly, then one must also question whether one is actually still in good hands with FIFA. An option that should be given serious consideration is whether UEFA should release itself from FIFA.”

FIFA has already said that it cannot publish the full Report, as it would be a breach of its Code of Ethics, for reasons explained here. If it were to publish the full Report, it could also face lawsuits from other individuals who complied with Garcia’s Investigatory Chamber on the condition of anonymity.

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