The U.S.-led investigations into corruption at FIFA have pierced the veil of secrecy that protected soccer’s top power-brokers and more dominoes can be expected to fall, said a former investigator on the governing body’s ethics committee.
Nicholas Davidson, a prominent lawyer and honorary president of New Zealand’s soccer association, resigned from his role on FIFA’s investigatory chamber before Swiss police arrested seven senior officials in Zurich last week.
While defending the work of the ethics committee and its “fearless” personnel, Davidson said the governing body’s lack of transparency had set it up to fail.
“It strikes me from my observations of the people who work in the business, and I’m talking about ordinary employees, (they are) hugely skilful, talented people, and dedicated,” Davidson said in a phone interview from Christchurch on Friday.
“Somewhere above that there is a veneer of people who make decisions who have the ability to intercept or be involved in some way in the vast money that goes around.”
“Those people had been protected by that layer of, if you like, working together. Now that layer, that veneer, has been pierced. And so they will talk. People talk. As Prince William said, this is the ‘Salt Lake City moment’. And I think we’ve just scratched it.”
English FA president Prince William last week compared the FIFA scandal to the Salt Lake City Olympics corruption crisis that ultimately sparked deep reform of the International Olympic Committee and the bidding process for Games.
Davidson, who feels world soccer is going through a similar “sea-change”, stressed he left FIFA due to a change in his professional life and not because of his work there or the unfolding scandal.
However, he said he nearly quit only months after starting work in earnest last October, following the departure of FIFA’s independent investigator Michael Garcia.
The former U.S. attorney submitted a report of his 18-month investigation into the controversial bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, which are now the subject of a probe by Swiss authorities. A summary of that report released by FIFA ethics judge Hans-Joachim Eckert in November found some impropriety by bid teams, but not enough to re-open the bidding process for the showpiece events due to be held in Russia and Qatar respectively.
Garcia, who complained the summary misrepresented his report, resigned in December after his appeal against Eckert’s statement was rejected by a FIFA committee.
“At that stage I was going to step down, but I was persuaded there was much to be done from this report and that investigations would be open,” said Davidson, who credited Cornel Borbely, chairman of the ethics committee’s investigatory chamber, for talking him round.
Davidson declined to comment on the scope of his work, only to say it was separate from the allegations swirling around the officials and media executives indicted last week.
Though he ultimately decided to stay on until recently, Davidson expressed his frustration that, as a member of the investigatory chamber, he was denied access to both Garcia’s report and the American’s appeal brief against Eckert’s summary.
He said the report, still under wraps despite promises that it will be published, should be released so long as it would not prejudice any ongoing investigations or prosecutions.
“I’d come out with all the main areas of investigation where Garcia has pointed to there being illicit conduct. I think they need to be identified,” he said.
Though the effectiveness of FIFA’s ethics committee as an anti-corruption unit has been questioned by pundits, Davidson defended his former colleagues and said their hands were tied.
He said he urged FIFA to establish protocols with national law enforcement agencies to assist their work, having not found any in place during his tenure.
“I saw enough of Garcia and Borbely to realise they were both completely fearless and were working to the highest standards of investigation and interview techniques,” he said.
“You can ask questions, what else can you do? You’ve got no investigation powers, you can’t go and wire-tap. You can’t do things a (law enforcement) investigations agency can do.”
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