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FIFA VPs Platini, Webb defend US lawyer Michael Garcia's World Cup bid probe from colleagues

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GENEVA — FIFA vice presidents Michel Platini and Jeffrey Webb gave their support to ethics investigator Michael Garcia on Tuesday amid reports that senior FIFA colleagues want the American removed from office.

Garcia is investigating potential wrongdoing, including by FIFA executive committee members, linked to the voting in the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bidding contests won by Russia and Qatar.

After the 13 voters who remain on the FIFA board from the December 2010 secret ballots were quizzed in Zurich last week, some reportedly disagreed with the probe.

"I would condemn any possible attempt to derail the investigation and I want the process to continue to the very end," UEFA president Platini said in a statement.

Garcia, a former U.S. Attorney in New York, was unanimously chosen by the FIFA ruling committee when he was appointed in July 2012, with widespread expectations that the troubled World Cup contests was his main case pending.

"I fully support the mandate we have given the Ethics Committee and will encourage Mr. Garcia to continue with his work," CONCACAF president Webb said in a statement.

Neither Platini nor Webb acknowledged witnessing attempts to undermine Garcia on the sidelines of a two-day board session which ended Friday.

FIFA said the mandate for Garcia was "not put into any question."

"After some media reports today, FIFA would like to reiterate that the work of the Investigatory Chamber continues independently," football's governing body said in a statement.

The informal talks agitating against Garcia and his investigation were confirmed by two more of FIFA's eight vice presidents, Jim Boyce of Northern Ireland and Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein of Jordan, who were elected after the World Cup votes.

Boyce said suggestions of a formal attempt to oppose the ethics investigation did not materialize at the board meeting, which was chaired by FIFA President Sepp Blatter.

"I also heard that it was going to happen, but it didn't happen," Boyce told The Associated Press.

Though the executive committee appointed Garcia, it no longer has authority over the former Interpol director.

He was confirmed in office at the annual FIFA Congress last year, and can be removed only by FIFA's 209 member nations. They next meet June 11 in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on the eve of the World Cup.

Garcia's appointment is considered as central to creating a more positive legacy from Blatter's longstanding presidency, which has seen FIFA's reputation hit by financial turmoil and cash-for-votes scandals.

Still, claims of hostility toward Garcia are the latest evidence of resistance within FIFA's board to reforms and greater transparency.

During the reform process, members of a FIFA-appointed anti-corruption advisory panel regularly spoke of being blocked by entrenched interests, including from within Europe.

Blatter staked his fourth term in office to anti-corruption reforms following the World Cup votes and his re-election in June 2011, when his only opponent Mohamed bin Hammam withdrew days before voting when implicated in trying to bribe Caribbean voters.

Six months earlier, 15-year board member bin Hammam helped his native Qatar win a five-nation contest for 2022 World Cup rights, defeating the United States in a final round of voting.

Bin Hammam and the Qatari bid also survived a brief probe by a previous FIFA ethics panel of possible rule-breaking collusion between supporters of Qatar and the joint Spain-Portugal bid which lost in the 2018 contest.

Garcia arrived in Zurich last week as The Daily Telegraph linked bin Hammam to payments to disgraced former FIFA vice president Jack Warner of Trinidad and Tobago. Warner resigned in June 2011 to avoid investigation in the Caribbean case. That led to Webb's election as CONCACAF leader.

The British newspaper reported that the FBI is investigating the financial affairs of Warner, who did take part in the 2018-2022 World Cup votes.

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