GENEVA – The public rift between the two leaders of FIFA's investigation into World Cup bidding corruption is heading for personal talks.
FIFA ethics judge Joachim Eckert said Friday he is reaching out to American investigator Michael Garcia, who rejected his report on the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bid contests as "incomplete and erroneous."
Garcia said Thursday he would appeal to FIFA against Eckert's decision to close the case against winning bidders Russia and Qatar, dramatically exposing a divide between the two colleagues.
"I must and want to first speak with Garcia," Eckert told The Associated Press in an email.
The German judge declined to discuss further conflict between the two men over a case which will do much to define FIFA's ability and willingness to improve its scandal-scarred image.
In an interview with the BBC, Eckert said he was "surprised, not shocked" at Garcia's reaction.
"I'm a long time in the job here. I don't think anything surprises me," said the lawyer, who has judged cases for 36 years in Munich.
Eckert, who based his report on Garcia's confidential investigation, cleared Russia and Qatar to continue preparing as hosts despite acknowledging some wrongdoing in their bids.
All but one of the nine bid candidates were linked by the investigation to some unethical behavior ahead of the December 2010 votes by FIFA's executive committee.
"In particular, the effects of these occurrences on the bidding process as a whole were far from reaching any threshold that would require returning to the bidding process, let alone reopening it," Eckert summarized.
The judge seemed to require a criminal burden of proof, while at the same time acknowledging Garcia was hampered by lacking power to subpoena witnesses and evidence.
Adding to his reputation for caution and leniency in FIFA cases, Eckert declined to identify officials whom Garcia implicated and wants publicly named along with details of the charges they face.
Eckert also praised Sepp Blatter but left out Garcia's criticism of the FIFA president's leadership, according to an official familiar with the investigation reports. The official spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the investigation dossier is supposed to be confidential.
Eckert and Garcia could oppose each other at a hearing at FIFA headquarters in Zurich, while still needing to cooperate on the World Cup corruption case and other matters referred to their ethics panel.
Garcia is still prosecuting cases against current and former FIFA executive committee members and bid staffers that should eventually be judged by Eckert.
The two men were appointed on the same day in July 2012 by the same FIFA ruling board, and were later elected to office by the FIFA congress of 209 member federations last year in Mauritius. The congress retains power to remove either or both.