South Africa denied that a $10 million payment it made in 2008 was in any way a bribe to FIFA for the 2010 World Cup, in the latest twist to the massive corruption scandal engulfing world football’s governing body.
Two separate investigations are being carried out by American and Swiss authorities for alleged rampant and long-running corruption within FIFA, with several top officials arrested and accused by US investigators of taking tens of millions of dollars in bribes.
Several top football officials have been questioned by Swiss investigators, and FIFA’s president Sepp Blatter too could be quizzed “in the future if needed”, according to Swiss prosecutors.
The biggest-ever scandal to rock world football erupted Wednesday when seven FIFA officials were arrested in their Zurich hotel as part of the US probe.
They and seven others were charged for racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering conspiracies that ran from 1991 to the present day, and accused of taking or conspiring to solicit $150 million in bribes.
An example cited in US papers was the 2004 selection process for the 2010 World Cup, with investigators claiming that South African officials paid $10 million to former FIFA vice president Jack Warner — one of the 14 indicted — in order to secure the bid.
South African Football Association president Danny Jordaan confirmed on Sunday that the organising committee made a payment of $10 million in 2008, but insisted this was not a bribe.
“I haven’t paid a bribe or taken a bribe from anybody in my life. We don’t know who is mentioned there (in the indictment),” Jordaan told the Sunday Independent.
“How could we have paid a bribe for votes four years after we had won the bid?” Jordaan said, adding that the payment was South Africa’s contribution towards Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football’s (CONCACAF) football development fund.
– ‘Stems from a lost bid’ –
Warner, who was then also president of CONCACAF, has blasted the US, saying charges against him and other FIFA officials “stems from a lost (American) bid to host the 2022 World Cup”.
The 72-year-old surrendered to police in Trinidad and Tobago on Wednesday, but has maintained his innocence all week. He was released after paying $400,000 in bail.
Swiss authorities were meanwhile running a parallel probe into allegations of bribery in the process over the controversial awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar.
A Swiss justice spokesman said top football officials were interviewed as “people who could provide information”, without giving further details.
He added that Blatter “will not be questioned at this stage. If necessary, he will be in the future”.
Seven senior FIFA officials are believed to be among those heard by investigators — Confederation of African Football (CAF) president Issa Hayatou (Cameroon), Angel Miguel Villar Llona (Spain), Michel D’Hooge (Belgium), Senes Erzik (Turkey), Marios Lefkaritis (Cyprus), Hany Abo Rida (Egypt) and Vitaly Mutko (Russia).
Two other current members of the Executive Committee who voted in 2010 for Qatar and Russia live in Switzerland — Blatter and UEFA president Michel Platini.
Swiss investigators were believed to be prioritising those living abroad as they were in town for a FIFA meeting on Saturday.
Blatter, who was re-elected to a fifth term as FIFA president on Friday despite the scandal, has accused US investigators of using the arrests as an attempt “interfere with the congress” that returned him to power.
The 79-year-old Swiss has argued that while many hold him “ultimately responsible for (the) actions and reputation of the global football community”, he “cannot monitor everyone all of the time”.
In an interview published Sunday by Swiss tabloid SonntagsBlick, Blatter said he “has been treated with zero respect” in the last few days.
He also said he was “very disappointed” by Platini, who has openly asked him to step down from the top job.
– Reviewing relations –
Platini has said UEFA will review relations with FIFA on June 6, while English Football Association chief Greg Dyke indicated England could be ready to back a European boycott of the World Cup.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier insisted FIFA must make a new start following Blatter’s re-election and said football’s governing body was out of touch with the sport it serves.
“I have serious doubts that FIFA will be able to handle this massive task without making a serious new start,” he told German daily Die Welt on Sunday.
“The gap between the machinations of their officials and the many players, coaches, parents, referees and fans around the world, who with a lot of passion, ensure every week that football lives, could not be greater.”
In underlining the far-reaching nature of the scandal, British bank Barclays announced it had launched an internal review into whether its accounts were used for corrupt payments by FIFA officials, a banking source told AFP.
Another British bank, Standard Chartered, said Friday that it was looking into two payments cleared by the bank that were mentioned in the indictment.
A third named bank, HSBC, has so far declined to comment. – Agence France-Presse