Blatter denies criminal wrongdoing

Date Published: 

GENEVA (AP) -- A confidential document with explicit and explosive allegations of corruption and financial mismanagement at the top of world soccer's governing body hit the public domain Sunday as the war between FIFA President Sepp Blatter and his supposed right hand man escalated to new heights. "FIFA today is run like a dictatorship," wrote FIFA General Secretary Michel Zen-Ruffinen in the introduction to his 21-page report which was submitted Friday to the organization's executive committee. Zen-Ruffinen -- a lawyer by training -- claimed that Blatter's mismanagement and the bankruptcy of its marketing partner ISL/ISMM had cost the organization roughly 800 million Swiss francs (US$500 million). He said the FIFA boss had repeatedly made unauthorized payments -- including a check of US$25,000 to a referee from Niger to dig up the dirt on one of Blatter's critics. The report was marked "strictly confidential" but leaked to Swiss and other media. The Web site of the Zurich-based newspaper SonntagsZeitung contained the full text. Blatter, embarking on a visit to China and North Korea, was outraged. "It is obvious that confidentiality cannot be ensured within our own body," he said in a statement on FIFA's Web site. "This development, for which I accept no responsibility, is a damning indictment of the style of those involved," he said about Zen-Ruffinen. Determined to fight till the end, Blatter urged the 204 national associations not to be deterred by the allegations and to back him for another four-year term. Issa Hayatou, a former Cameroonian soccer player who heads the African confederation, is standing against Blatter at the elections May 29 in Seoul on the eve of the World Cup.

"Your vote is the key, it is the only thing that counts despite what those who do not want to proceed to an election may think," wrote Blatter in the letter to the national associations. Key members of FIFA's executive committee have demanded that he quit. But Blatter, who was FIFA's general secretary from 1981 until he became president, has widespread support from national associations in North and South America and Asia. Several African associations have said they will back him in preference to the African candidate and even in Europe -- where opposition is strongest -- the French federation has thrown its weight behind him. In an interview with SonntagsZeitung, Blatter said it would take an "earthquake" to stop his re-election. He also denied that he had committed any criminal offense. "I have made mistakes now and then, but there have been no criminal actions...," the president said. "There are so many factual mistakes in his report. It is simply not serious."

Blatter, 65, is due to respond to the allegations upon his return from Asia. Under the heading "breaches of competence by the president," Zen-Ruffinen charged that Blatter had written off US$9.75 million due to FIFA from the North and Central American and Caribbean confederation CONCACAF in 1999 without any real reason. In 2000 he ignored standard procedures in authorizing US$1 million for CONCACAF under a program called GOAL which promotes soccer projects in developing countries. In September 2001, Blatter arranged for payments to former FIFA President Joao Havelange of Brazil totaling US$55,000. "The real background of these payments is questionable," said Zen-Ruffinen. Zen-Ruffinen accused Blatter of using the GOAL program to further his own ends and said federations in the CONCACAF region in particular feared they would lose financial support if they didn't support him.

The report devoted an entire section to Jack Warner, CONCACAF President. "The President has constantly taken decisions which are favorable to the economic interests of Jack Warner and some of his family members, and thus are contrary to the financial interests of FIFA," Zen-Ruffinen wrote. Warner, from Trinidad and Tobago, received the TV rights for the 1990/94/98 World Cups at the symbolic price of one dollar. He secured the rights to this year's World Cup by threatening to pull the rug from under the U-17 World Cup 2001 in Trinidad and Tobago, wrote Zen-Ruffinen. The budget for the U-17 competition was US$4.5 million, but FIFA had to accept the final cost of US$8.21 million after Warner insisted there was an "error in his final calculation." FIFA paid an inflated price for an IT project conducted by a company headed by one of Warner's sons. Warner's other son ran the Center of Excellence in Port of Spain. Even though it was built with money from FIFA's GOAL program, FIFA still had to pay to hire office space for events, charged Zen-Ruffinen. Contrary to the ISL bankruptcy-related loss of 51 million francs (US$31.9 million) disclosed by Blatter, the true amount was more than 185 million francs (US$115.6 million), said the report. Zen-Ruffinen claimed that FIFA had also lost out by giving the 2002 and 2006 television rights to Germany's Kirch, quite aside from eventual costs related to that group's recent insolvency. Kirch got the German broadcast rights for 2002 and 2006 for 90 million francs (US$53 million) less than the market rate. And the Kirch/ISL consortium was awarded the U.S. television rights in preference to AIM which had offered US$100 million more, said Zen-Ruffinen.

Under the title "corruption," Zen-Ruffinen said in 2000 Blatter had ordered the payment of US$100,000 to cover expenses between 1998 and 2000 of a member of the executive committee. The man in question -- Russian federation chief Viacheslav Koloskov -- was not on the executive committee in the years concerned. He said Blatter had also resorted to corruption to try to silence Somali soccer official Farah Addo, who recently claimed that he had been offered money to vote for Blatter in the 1998 elections. "The President arranged for two former FIFA referees, Mr. Lucien Bouchardeau, Niger, and Mr. Neiji Jouini, Tunisia, to secretly come to Zurich individually to make separate statements about Mr. Addo," Zen-Ruffinen wrote. He said Bouchardeau mentioned he needed money. "The President ... handed out to him in front of two FIFA employees a check of US$25,000 mentioning that Bouchardeau would receive additional US$25,000 if the information he provided would suit the purpose of the President." In the SonntagsZeitung interview, Blatter said that he had paid Bouchardeau the US$25,000 out of his own pocket. He said it was because the referee was in financial problems having been dumped by Addo from African fixtures. "He came to me with tears in his eyes and said he was a poor devil with nothing to live on. And so I gave him 25,000 of my own money," Blatter said. Pressed about the wisdom of this, Blatter replied: "I'm too kind a person."