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FIFA investigator among Americans barred from Russia in rights dispute

Michael J. Garcia, Chairman of the investigatory chamber of the FIFA Ethics Committee attends a news conference at the at the Home of FIFA i
Michael J. Garcia, Chairman of the investigatory chamber of the FIFA Ethics Committee attends a news conference at the at the Home of FIFA i

By Steve Gutterman

MOSCOW (Reuters) - The chief investigator examining allegations of wrongdoing in soccer including the bidding process for the 2018 World Cup in Russia is one of 18 people on a list of Americans barred from entering Russia over what Moscow says are human rights abuses.

Michael Garcia, a former U.S. federal prosecutor who now works for soccer's world governing body, FIFA, is on the blacklist published by Russia's Foreign Ministry on Saturday after Washington named 18 Russians barred from entering the United States for alleged rights abuses.

It was not immediately clear whether his blacklisting could affect Russia's hosting of the soccer World Cup in 2018.

As a U.S. attorney, Garcia was involved in the successful effort to arrest and try Viktor Bout, a Russian who was long wanted by U.S. authorities on suspicion of arms trafficking. Bout is serving a 25-year jail term in the United States.

Garcia, whose past responsibilities have also included enforcing arms regulations and money laundering statutes, was elected last July to investigate allegations of corruption as head of the investigative chamber of FIFA's ethics committee.

He did not immediately respond to emails requesting comment.

The joint bidding process to host the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, won by Russia and Qatar, has been tainted by a corruption scandal after a number of high-ranking FIFA officials were banned for breaching the body's ethics code.

FIFA said in January the ethics committee would conduct a "thorough review" of allegations about the process.

The Russian Foreign Ministry could not immediately be reached for comment.

U.S. President Barack Obama's administration on Friday issued a list of 18 Russians subject to visa bans and asset freezes in the United States under the Magnitsky Act legislation passed by Congress late last year.

Russia's list was issued under a retaliatory law President Vladimir Putin signed in December. Garcia, a former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, was among Americans the Foreign Ministry said had violated the human rights of Russians abroad.

In 2008, Garcia announced Bout's arrest in Thailand. Bout was extradited and was sentenced in April 2012 after a Manhattan jury convicted him on charges that he agreed to sell arms to people he thought were militants intent on attacking American soldiers in Colombia.

Russia vociferously protested the extradition of Bout - who is the subject of a book called "Merchant of Death" and inspiration for the film "Lord of War" starring Nicolas Cage - and says he was convicted on unreliable evidence.

Bout had lived untroubled in Russia, frustrating U.S. officials seeking his prosecution, before he was lured to Bangkok and seized in a sting operation. The United States has refused a Russian request to return him to Russia to serve out his prison term.

(Writing by Steve Gutterman; Editing Alissa de Carbonnel and Pravin Char)

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