FIFA formally asks officials, newspaper for evidence of corruption claims

GENEVA — Facing a deepening corruption scandal, FIFA demanded
evidence Wednesday to back up English claims that six executive
committee members were involved in bribery during the 2018 and 2022
World Cup bidding contests.

FIFA President Sepp Blatter, meanwhile, promised to resolve the crisis before he comes up for re-election on June 1.

«We
have to do it now immediately. We have exactly three weeks to do so,»
Blatter said in an interview with Qatar-based network Al-Jazeera.

Blatter
is seeking a fourth and final four-year term against Qatari challenger
Mohamed bin Hammam, who was a central figure in his country’s victorious
— and controversial — bid to host the 2022 World Cup.

Following
Tuesday’s allegations made during a British Parliamentary inquiry, FIFA
secretary general Jerome Valcke wrote to England’s Football Association
asking for a complete report plus «all documentary evidence» from David
Triesman, the former leader of England’s 2018 bid.

Triesman told
British lawmakers that four long-standing FIFA officials — Jack Warner,
Nicolas Leoz, Ricardo Teixeira and Worawi Makudi — requested bribes in
the 2018 bidding.

Lawmakers were also told in a submission from
The Sunday Times that Qatar paid US$1.5 million to two more FIFA
officials, Issa Hayatou and Jacques Anouma, in the 2022 contest. Qatar
won the vote, beating the United States in the final round.

FIFA said it has asked the newspaper for more evidence of information it received from a whistleblower within Qatar’s bid.

Valcke requested detailed evidence in order to «examine the situation thoroughly and with clear-sightedness,» FIFA said.

As
FIFA’s top administrator, responsibility falls on Valcke to ask FIFA’s
ethics court to open official investigations against any of the six
under suspicion.

A previous FIFA ethics probe based on a Sunday
Times investigation threw the 2018 and 2022 bid races into chaos during
the final weeks of campaigning before the December vote.

Two
members of FIFA’s executive committee, Amos Adamu and Reynald Temarii,
were barred from voting for their part in the corruption allegations.

Blatter
said Wednesday that the past experience would help FIFA deal with the
latest scandal, which means that one third of the 24-man executive
committee has been implicated in World Cup bid corruption claims.

«It
is not the first time and we know how to react now,» Blatter said.
«Once we have the evidence then we can decide where we go, if we go, in
the investigation — an administrative investigation or directly to the
ethics committee.»

FIFA said Valcke has asked English football officials to provide Parliamentary records of Triesman’s testimony.

It
also questioned why the newspaper’s latest allegations were not
provided with other material submitted last October for the previous
ethics probe.

«In particular, reference is made in the letter to
the allegations regarding a ‘whistleblower who had worked with the Qatar
bid,’ who allegedly made some declarations,» FIFA said.

The Qatar
football federation has denied paying Hayatou, from Cameroon, and Ivory
Coast’s Anouma, calling the allegations «wholly unreliable.»

Hayatou,
the president of the Confederation of African Football, «categorically
denies» the claims, the African body said Wednesday. He threatened legal
action to defend his name.

Bin Hammam played a key role in delivering the 2022 World Cup to his homeland.

«FIFA is not corrupted,» the Asian Football Confederation President said. «We are victims of the popularity of the game.»

FIFA’s
most senior American delegate, Chuck Blazer, said the alleged Qatari
payments were his «greatest concern» among the English claims, and he
expected the newspaper to publish more details on Sunday.

«If it
turns out that what they’re saying is supported by fact, then I would
have a lot to say on the matter,» Blazer said, without elaborating on
what action he would seek.

The conduct of Warner, Leoz, Teixeira
and Makudi in the 2018 contest won by Russia was described as «improper
and unethical» by Triesman.

Warner, a FIFA vice-president from
Trinidad and Tobago, dismissed Triesman’s allegations, saying he
«laughed like hell» when he heard them on Tuesday.

«I never asked
anybody for anything,» Warner told Trinidad newspaper Newsday. «When
these guys (England) came here, we promised to help. I showed them a
place where they can put a playground. They promised to come back but
they never did.»

Warner said he thinks English officials are
bitter after gaining just two votes in the 2018 contest — one from its
own representative on the executive committee.

«How come not even
one person from Europe voted for them?» Warner told Newsday. «And
they’re looking for all different reasons. Why don’t they, in a
dispassionate way, sit down and ask why not one European voted for
them?»

Valcke has questioned why the claims — which included incidents said to have occurred in 2009 — were not reported earlier.

«If
it was known, why has it not come to our attention? We have called and
asked people to let us know whatever you have in this process,» Valcke
said.

Asked if the World Cup votes should be reopened, Valcke said
the process had been conducted cleanly and all known evidence was
examined.

Frank Lowy, the chairman of Football Federation
Australia, said the allegations meant «I could have stood on my head for
24 months and we still couldn’t have got it.» Lowy led Australia’s bid
for the 2022 hosting rights that cost Australian taxpayers about $45
million.

Australia received only one vote and was eliminated in the first round.

«Out
of the 44 votes for the two World Cups, Australia, England and America
received (a total of) four votes,» Lowy told The Australian newspaper
Thursday.

«So we were in good company. We had taken precautions
before we started the process on who will be in the competition. With
China not in, it was one of the conditions why we moved forward. Had
they been in, we would certainly have had second thoughts (of pressing
ahead).»

British Sports Minister Hugh Robertson said he had
discussed the possibility of England breaking away from FIFA along with
other countries.

«I have taken the temperature from other football
associations around the world, particularly we did that in the wake of
the 2018 bid,» Robertson told the BBC. «At the moment there is a desire
to try to work to change FIFA from the inside. If FIFA is unable to do
that then I would say all options are possible.

«But at the moment
we very much want to work with them and try to convince them they need
to go through exactly the same process that the IOC went through in the
post-Salt Lake City process.»

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