Unsealed court documents showed Wednesday that US prosecutors have detailed evidence of corruption at the highest levels of FIFA, tainting the award of hosting rights to the 1998 and 2010 World Cups.
FIFA staff in Zurich gave Sepp Blatter a standing ovation after his resignation, but in New York the news was all bad for world football‘s governing body.
Testimony from disgraced former North Americanfootball supremo Chuck Blazer revealed that FIFA executives conspired to accept bribes during the campaigns to host the 1998 and 2010 cups, won by France and South Africa.
Blazer’s testimony is a key plank in the US investigation against FIFA, which federal prosecutors are pursuing as a “Racketeering Influenced Corrupt Organization.”
The 70-year-old — who is presently out on bail and being treated for rectal cancer — has admitted to a raft of charges related to his leadership of the North and Central American soccer body CONCACAF and membership of FIFA’s executive committee.
However, in order to get a lighter punishment, he agreed to wear a microphone and record conversations with fellow FIFA executives.
In the papers released, the other FIFA members identified as co-conspirators are not named.
“Among other things, I agreed with other persons in or around 1992 to facilitate the acceptance of a bribe in conjunction with the selection of the host nation for the 1998 World Cup,” Blazer said in his plea.
The 1998 World Cup was eventually awarded to France, ahead of a bid by Morocco. Another court document, detailing the charges, says that Blazer was present when a co-conspirator accepted a bribe in Morocco.
Blazer goes on to admit that he and “others on the FIFA executive committee” agreed to accept bribes in conjunction with the selection of South Africa to host the World Cup in 2010.
South African officials have strongly denied allegations by US investigators that they paid $10 million in bribes to secure the rights to host the competition.
Central to the claims about South Africa is former FIFA vice-president and former head of CONCACAFJack Warner, who was placed on Interpol’s most wanted list on Wednesday.
The $10 million transfer went from the South African authorities to Warner, and was made through FIFA, although they say they were just the intermediary in the transaction.
Reports say US investigators believe FIFA’s combative secretary-general Jerome Valcke authorized the transfer and the money was intended as a bribe.
However, he insists that he had nothing to do with it.
“I have nothing to blame myself for and I certainly do not feel guilty so I do not even have to justify my innocence,” Valcke told France Info radio station.
“I don’t have the power to authorize a payment, especially one of $10 million, and above all one that comes from another account separate from FIFA,” added the 54-year-old.
Despite their denials, the US Federal Bureau of Investigation is looking into Blatter’s role in tens of millions of dollars of bribes given to football officials.
– Most Wanted –
Blatter’s decision to stand down sparked a race to take over as head of the world’s richest and most powerful sporting federation, with the vote not expected until December.
South Korean tycoon Chung Mong-Joon, Prince Ali bin al Hussein of Jordan, who was beaten by Blatter in a vote last Friday, and Brazilian football legend Zico all said they could take part.
Most eyes remain on Michel Platini, the UEFA president who failed in his bid to play kingmaker form Prince Ali last week.
Blatter, who has run FIFA for 17 years, won a fifth term in an election on Friday but renewed criticism and new corruption revelations forced him into a corner.
“While I have a mandate from the membership of FIFA, I do not feel that I have a mandate from the entire world of football –- the fans, the players, the clubs, the people who live, breathe and love football,” he told reporters.
– Who flips first? –
US authorities have charged 14 football officials and sports company executives over more than $150 million in bribes.
As well as Warner the global police agency Interpol put former FIFA executive member Nicolas Leoz on its most wanted list and issued an international alert.
Four heads of sports marketing companies have also been put on the list.
Leoz is in poor health and under house arrest in his native Paraguay.
In parallel to the US inquiry, Swiss prosecutors are looking into the award of the 2018 and 2022 World Cup tournaments to Russia and Qatar.
Qatar said Blatter’s resignation would have “no impact” on its World Cup preparations. The Kremlin also said Russia was “surprised” by the resignation but it was also going ahead with plans.
And the Uruguayan Football Association denied that $3.5 million it had received for taking part in the 2015 Copa America was in any way suspect. – Agence France-Presse