Interview: Whistleblower feels betrayed after giving testimony to FIFA
17.12.2014By Lars Andersson
“The Chairman of the Adjudicatory Chamber concludes that the various incidents which might have occurred are not suited to compromise the integrity of the FIFA World Cup 2018/2022 bidding process as a whole.”
This was the conclusion by Hans Joachim Eckert, chairman of the Adjudicative Chamber of FIFA Ethics Committee, on 13 November 2014, when summarising the investigation into the alleged bribery and corruption in relation to the awarding of the 2018/2022 World Cups to Qatar and Russia respectively. The investigation and report were compiled by FIFA’s special investigator, Michael J. Garcia, chairman of the Investigatory Chamber of FIFA’s Ethics Committee.
The conclusion was met with surprise throughout the world of football. The surprise did not lessen when the special investigator himself, Michael J. Garcia, went public with statements complaining about the conclusions drawn from his report.
In another part of the world, Phaedra Almajid was feeling not only surprised and astounded, but also mad and – not least – scared. The fact was that she was easily identified as ‘the whistleblower from Qatar’ in Eckert’s 42-page long statement on the report, in which her testimony was dismissed as unreliable.
This led her to send Michael J. Garcia a complaint, dated 16 November. In the complaint she writes that by identifying her in the report, Eckert has violated art. 16.1 of the FIFA Code of Ethics. She further concludes:
“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 FIFA’s Code of Ethics.”
“I have taken great personal risks to stand up for the truth in a highly politicized atmosphere. However I have found myself betrayed and denigrated for being courageous enough to come forward.”
Today, Phaedra Almajid says to the Danish magazine Sport Executive:
“I agreed to meet and cooperate with Mr. Garcia based on his promise of anonymity and confidentiality. I would never have participated in his investigation had this not been promised to me. A name is not unique to a person, there are many different ways to identify a person. And Eckert purposely and maliciously made my identity known.”
Coerced to sign
Almajid worked as the head of international media relations in the Qatar 2022 bid committee. At the beginning of 2010, her assignment ended there, because she was concerned about what was going on. In spite of her worries, she agreed to talk to Garcia.
The consequences of leaving the bid committee soon became clear.
“In July 2011, I was coerced by the Qatari bid team and their army of lawyers to sign an affidavit – retracting my claims. If I did not sign, I was told, there was already a Qatari injunction against me for having broken my non-disclosure agreement and they threatened to enforce it legally internationally. I was alone; I had no legal representation. I am a single mother of two, one of whom is severely disabled. I was scared and I signed.”
I witnessed bribes
Today, she sticks to her original testimony: “Bribery took place in relation to the battle to host the World Cups 2018 and 2022.”
“I will only speak of the bid I worked for and, yes, there has been lots of documented evidence of wrong-doing within the FIFA World Cup bidding process.”
“I witnessed bribes made to Issa Hayatou, Jacques Anouma and Amos Adamu. And I witnessed them agree in exchange for voting for Qatar. That was in Angola,” Almajid explains and continues:
“I witnessed the Spain/Portugal vote collusion with Qatar, too.”
The three African football officials have all denied the accusations, as has the Spain/Portugal bid committee.
When asked who, to her knowledge, the central players in Qatar are, Almajid replies:
“Mohammed Bin Hammam and the royal family. I will not comment further than this.”
Yet Almajid still does not think that Qatar should be stripped of the right to host the World Cup in 2022.
“According to Garcia’s comments, and the little we can read in Eckert’s report, every bidding country was engaged in unethical and dubious affairs. Therefore, the problem is not with the bidding nations but underlines a much deeper problem within FIFA itself. If all countries played the same unethical game, isn’t it maybe what FIFA expects? And therefore; no, I do not think that Qatar should lose the right to host the World Cup because they didn’t do anything any other country didn’t do – they only had deeper pockets.”
An Arab traitor
Today, Almajid feels like haunted prey:
“There are many people who are extremely angry with me in the Arab world. As a senior Qatari official said to me: ‘You have not only hurt the bid, but you hurt the State of Qatar and every Arab out there’. It is hard to explain due to cultural differences, but I am considered an ‘Arab traitor’ for having spoken out.”
“It is funny, because, you know, I never saw it as an Arab versus non-Arab issue; for me it was simply a question of right and wrong. But that is not the way the majority of Arabs see it. All I can say is that if Qatar loses the bid, someone is going to have to pay the price.”
“So yes, there have been threats. Legal threats from the Qataris to sue me for more than one million dollars; and there have since been other forms of threats directed at both me and my two sons. Due to the fact that this is ongoing, I cannot comment further.”
“So - I will have to look over my shoulder for the rest of my life…”
Culture of self-protection
Sport Executive/Play the Game have asked Michael J. Garcia and Hans Joachim Eckert for a comment on Phaedra Almajid’s complaint. Kate Slaasted, Garcia’s spokesperson, refers to FIFA’s Disciplinary Committee, while Eckert has not responded to our enquiries. On 16 December, FIFA’s Disciplinary Committee rejected the complaint by Almajid with a statement saying:
”There were no grounds to justify the opening of disciplinary proceedings against Hans Joachim Eckert’.
And the FIFA statement continues:
‘The chairman reviewed all provided material and stressed that since the participants in the investigation had gone public with their own media activities long before the publication of the statement of the chairman of the adjudicatory chamber Judge Eckert, the breach of confidentiality claim had no substance’.
This makes Almajid wonder. And in a response to FIFA’s dismissal of her complaint, she says to Sport Executive/Play the Game:
“The conclusion of the FIFA Disciplinary Committee dismissing my complaint against Herr Eckert for breaching my confidentiality is a transparent avoidance of a clear violation of its own rules. I cooperated with Mr. Garcia’s investigation for over two and a half years under a clear, unqualified promise of confidentiality. He asked me for my confidentiality and repeatedly promised me mine. I kept my promise. Herr Eckert breached that confidentiality. I did not. The Disciplinary Committee’s avoidance of this undisputable violation is emblematic of its culture of self-protection.”
She further denies having gone to the media before the publication of the Eckert statement.
“The Disciplinary Committee’s assertion that I had ‘gone public with [my] own media activities long before the publication’ of Herr Eckert’s statement is an obvious dodge. My public statements were all made long before I entered into a confidentiality agreement with Mr. Garcia. I made no public statements during the entire period of Mr. Garcia’s investigation. I relied on FIFA’s promise of confidentiality and continued to honor my promise until Herr Eckert published his ‘Summary’. My recent public statements have only been made AFTER Herr Eckert’s identification of me in blatant violation of FIFA confidentiality rules,” she explains.
“The Disciplinary Committee’s decision today (16 December) is one more example of an organization whose rules are mere formalities meaning nothing. Woe be to any other person who cares enough to risk personal safety to report FIFA corruption,” Almajid concludes.