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FIFA clears Russia, Qatar in World Cup inquiry – but investigator cries foul (+video)

The world soccer body cleared the two countries of vote-buying and corruption in winning the 2018 and 2022 tournaments. But the scandal that has dogged the bids is hardly over.

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    Michael Garcia, seen here in a 2012 photo, investigated allegations that Russia and Qatar engaged in corrupt practices to win the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, respectively. He has lambasted FIFA, the soccer governing body, for its report today clearing the two countries of wrongdoing.
    Walter Bieri/AP/FILE
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Accusations of corruption and vote-buying have dogged the awarding to Russia and Qatar of the next two World Cups. So FIFA, international soccer's top administrative body, undoubtedly hoped that its report today clearing both countries of any wrongdoing would put an end to the matter.

But the man FIFA selected to investigate the corruption allegations condemned the document within hours of its release – undoing any hopes that the scandal hanging over the next two World Cups would abate.

The Dec. 2, 2010, decision that Russia would host the 2018 World Cup and Qatar the 2022 event has been the subject of much skepticism in the nearly four years since. The Qatar World Cup has been particularly scrutinized, as its bid was connected with former FIFA executive Mohamed Bin Hammam, a Qatari who was banned for life from FIFA over corruption allegations. Indeed, many question the wealthy but tiny nation's ability to host a tournament of the World Cup's size, in summer temperatures that average in excess of 105 degrees F. FIFA has been under pressure to reschedule or re-vote the 2022 World Cup.

But FIFA's 42-page report declared that during its 18-month investigation on how the bidding process for the World Cups was carried out, investigators "did not find any violations or breaches of the relevant rules and regulations." Though the report indicated that several individuals may be investigated further for possible misconduct, it declared the assessment of the 2018 and 2022 bidding "closed."

The closure may be wishful thinking, however, as Michael Garcia, the former New York district attorney FIFA tasked with investigating the allegations, quickly criticized the report's conclusion. Less than four hours after the report's release, the BBC reports, Mr. Garcia issued a statement saying the document "contains numerous materially incomplete and erroneous representations of the facts and conclusions."

Garcia says he now intends to contact Fifa's appeals committee.

News of Garcia's attack on its report is likely to come as [a] blow and an embarrassment to Fifa, which has been attempting to address allegations of corruption within its organisation.

Garcia's criticism will strengthen the demands that his findings – totaling more than 400 pages – be released in their entirety. FIFA's shorter report was meant to be based on Garcia's conclusions, but was written by Hans-Joachim Eckert, a German judge.

Among the findings in the FIFA report:

• Russia provided very few documents to investigators, claiming that the computers used for the bid had been leased, and that they had been subsequently returned to the leasor, who destroyed them. The report concludes that "the evidence available [was] not sufficient to support any findings of misconduct."

• Mr. bin Hammam did attempt to sway the 2022 vote in Qatar's favor, and "his actions ... influenced the voting process by eliminating votes for Australia (a direct Qatar 2022 competitor) and England." But the report argues that his influence was "not ... significant" and "did not affect the outcome of the FIFA World Cup 2018/2022 bidding process as a whole."

• Both Australia and England were singled out for "misconduct." England allegedly tried to woo then-FIFA executive Jack Warner to support its bid. The now-disgraced Mr. Warner demanded benefits from England, which the report claims were provided:

...Relevant occurrences included Mr Warner pressing, in 2009 and again in 2010, England's bid team to help a person of interest to him find a part-time job in the UK. ...England 2018's top officials in response not only provided the individual concerned with employment opportunities, but also kept Mr Warner apprised of their efforts as they solicited his support for the bid.

...Both Mr. Warner's demands and England 2018's response undermined the integrity of the bidding process, although to a limited extent.

Regarding Australia, the report argues "there is a prima facie case that two consultants violated the bidding and ethics rules" that bidders agreed to.

The former head of England's bid, Simon Johnson, dismissed the report as a "politically-motivated whitewash," reports the Guardian.

“In relation to England’s bid, I was satisfied at all times that we complied with the rules of the ethics code. We also gave full and transparent disclosure to the investigation which many others did not do. All these things are being said about England when the investigation was set up around the terrible allegations about corruption involving Qatar.”

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