THE two whistleblowers whose anonymity was effectively blown by Fifaâ€™s summary of its probe into the 2018 and 2022 World Cup tournaments have submitted complaints about their treatment at the hands of investigators.
Phaedra Almajid, who made allegations about Qatarâ€™s 2022 World Cup bid, said her identification has threatened the safety of her family. She has written to Michael Garcia, the head of the investigatory arm of Fifaâ€™s ethics committee, to protest at her treatment. Her intervention comes amid growing disquiet about the way whistleblowers who spoke to Garcia under condition of anonymity have been publicly traduced by the judge Hans-Joachim Eckert, whose 42-page summary was disowned by the New York attorney.
Eckert â€“ who has already said he will not publish the full 430-page report â€“ and Garcia plan to meet on Thursday to try to settle their differences over the investigation that cleared Russia, winner of the 2018 vote, and Qatar of serious wrongdoing.
Bonita Mersiades, the former Australia 2022 executive who gave evidence to Garcia on three occasions under condition her anonymity would be protected, has also submitted a letter of complaint to him. â€œIt says much about Fifa and those inside their tent that they felt it necessary to engage in a denigration of the two women who had been courageous enough to say something,â€ said Mersiades in an article for the Guardian. â€œIt is one thing to discount our discussions and the evidence â€“ an investigator is entitled to do that – but it is extraordinary to single out two individuals and detail (mostly incorrectly) the contact with Mike Garcia, especially when we were assured in writing and in person that our dealings with him were confidential.â€
In Almajidâ€™s letter, seen by the Guardian, she said she had agreed to speak to Garcia despite no longer working in football but did so â€œin the belief the true facts known to me are important to the purposes of your investigation.
â€œMy cooperation was based on your promise of confidentiality. You have said that â€˜in the course of any investigation [you are] bound by confidentialityâ€™, and â€˜also want to protect anyone who would wish to come to me in good faithâ€™. As an organisation, Fifa has stated the identities of the people you spoke with â€“ other than serving football officials or employees â€“ would remain confidential.â€
The awarding of the 2022 World Cup was followed by serious allegations about Qatarâ€™s bid. Photograph: Walter Bieri/EPA
Almajid pointed out the promises of confidentiality were repeated by Fifaâ€™s chief legal counsel, Marco Villiger, two months ago at the height of a debate about whether Garciaâ€™s report should be published in full. Ironically, Fifa claimed that one of the main reasons for producing a summary rather than publishing the full report was to protect the anonymity of whistleblowers.
â€œAs 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,â€ she said.
â€œNot only was Herr Eckertâ€™s summary a crude, cynical and fundamentally erroneous description of me and the information and materials I provided your investigation, it directly breached Fifaâ€™s assurances of my confidentiality.â€
Like Mersiades, Almajid saw her evidence discredited in Eckertâ€™s disputed summary of Garciaâ€™s report. Eckert said Mersiades, who is not named but is easy to identify from the summary report, provided â€œsome useful informationâ€ but claimed â€œthe evidence did not support its specific recollections and allegationsâ€ and â€œfurther undermined its own reliabilityâ€ by speaking to the media.
The German judge said Almajid â€œprovided voluminous records and other informationâ€ but said there were â€œserious concerns about the individualâ€™s credibilityâ€ and therefore the report had not relied on any information or material she provided.
Almajid worked on the Qatar bid in a senior communications role and was behind allegations aired under parliamentary privilege that the African Fifa executives Issa Hayatou, Jacques Anouma and Amos Adamu were given $1.5m each to vote for Qatar. The three have denied the allegations, as has the Qatar bid committee.
She later retracted the claim but has said she agreed to do so only under duress after the Qatar organising committee said it would not bring legal action against her for breaching a confidentiality clause in her contract if she signed a sworn statement. In 2011, Almajid signed a statement in which she said she had fabricated her original allegations and had not been put under any pressure, or received any financial inducements, for retracting the claims.
She said at the time the decision was â€œentirely my ownâ€ and she felt â€œsorryâ€ and â€œguiltyâ€ for undermining the credibility of the ultimately successful Qatari bid. Fifa said it could not comment on the complaints by the whistleblowers before they were examined by the Fifa disciplinary committee.
It said Eckert had not named them to â€œprotect their personality rightsâ€. Almajid and Mersiades were not named but they argue they are easily identifiable from the summary published by Eckert.
Fifa also said â€œthe discussion and the public letter by Phaedra Almajid and Bonita Mersiades underline exactly the confidentiality issue concerning any of the witnesses when talking about a publishing of the full reportâ€.
It has argued that publishing the full report will undermine the confidentiality of witnesses.
â€œAlthough Herr Eckert did not name me in his report, he directly identified me and my information by connecting it to my publicly reported statements three years ago. Within hours of publication of Herr Eckertâ€™s summary, I had already been widely identified as one of the â€˜whistleblowersâ€™ in German and British media,â€ Almajid wrote.
â€œAs if identifying me were not enough, Herr Eckertâ€™s report falsely discredits me in order to support his indefensible conclusion that the December 2010 bidding was wholly acceptable.â€
The 42-page summary of Michael Garciaâ€™s ethics report for Fifa by Hans-Joachim Eckert, above, was described by Garcia as â€˜erroneousâ€™. Photograph: Walter Bieri/AP
She said that Eckert had put her safety and that of her family at risk by effectively singling her and Mersiades out from the 70-plus witnesses who spoke to Garcia, making their evidence easy to identify.
â€œIn any organisation â€“ particularly one with huge resources and global reach like Fifa â€“ protection of insiders who expose wrongdoing is essential to an honest and healthy business. Identifying me and falsely discrediting me sends a message to anyone who may think to come forward that their credibility and protection will be in jeopardy for the rest of their lives,â€ she wrote.
â€œI have taken great personal risks to stand up for the truth in a highly politicised atmosphere. However I have found myself betrayed and denigrated for being courageous enough to come forward with critical information.
â€œMy fate reveals much about Fifa and its modus operandi. A culture of silence is rewarded; those who speak out and dare to question the system are not just cast aside, but ironically denied any protection or respect under Fifaâ€™s own code of ethics.â€
Hours after Eckertâ€™s summary, which effectively cleared Russia and Qatar to host the 2018 and 2022 tournaments, Garcia complained that it misrepresented the facts of his report and his conclusions and reported the matter to Fifaâ€™s appeals committee.
In a joint statement, the pair complained that Eckert had broken rule 16.1 of the ethics committee code, which guarantees confidentiality to whistleblowers.
â€œThe summary by Judge Eckert clearly breached all such assurances of confidentiality. Although not named in the report, we were clearly identifiable and within hours of its publication had been widely unmasked as the â€˜whistleblowersâ€™ in German, British and Australian media,â€ they said.
â€œTo compound this situation Judge Eckert used his summary report to question our credibility. This is particularly puzzling as the summary simultaneously uses the same information we provided to form significant parts of his inquiry in respect of the Australian and Qatar World Cup bids.â€ – The Guardian