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, as police investigations spread Thursday to Australia.
Testimony from disgraced former North American football supremo Chuck Blazer said that FIFA executives conspired to accept bribes during the bidding for the 1998 and 2010 cups, hosted by France and South Africa.
Blazer’s testimony, shown in unsealed court documents, is a key plank in the US investigation against FIFA, which federal prosecutors are pursuing as a “Racketeering Influenced Corrupt Organization.”
The revelation comes after the sensational resignation of veteran FIFA chief Sepp Blatter, who received a standing ovation during an emotional appearance in front of his staff on Wednesday.
Blazer — 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.
In a plea deal with US prosecutors, the 70-year-old 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.
France eventually beat Morocco in the bidding to stage that tournament. 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 angrily denied allegations by US investigators that they paid $10 million in bribes to secure the rights.
Central to the claims about South Africa is former FIFA vice-president and former head of CONCACAF Jack Warner, who was placed on Interpol’s most wanted list on Wednesday along with five other people.
The $10 million transfer went from the South African authorities to Warner, and was made through FIFA, although football’s governing body says it was 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.
But Valcke, who was effectively Blatter’s right-hand man, insists that he had nothing to do with it.
– ‘FIFA, its funding and me’ –
Warner added another explosive dimension to the combustible drama by alleging a link between FIFA and 2010 elections held in his native Trinidad and Tobago.
He said in a televised broadcast that he had compiled a dossier showing unspecified links between FIFA, himself, funding channels and two leading political parties contesting that election.
The TV6 website reported that Warner said the file “also deals with my knowledge of international transactions at FIFA, including its president Mr. Sepp Blatter and, lastly, other matters involving (Trinidad’s) current prime minister.”
Warner also indicated he would fight extradition to the US. “I have no intention of allowing them to deprive me of my freedom,” he said.
US authorities have already charged 14 football officials, including Warner, and sports company executives over more than $150 million in bribes.
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.
Australian police said they were now looking into corruption claims around Australia’s failed 2022 bid, with Football Federation Australia chairman Frank Lowy saying FIFA’s bidding for that tournament was “not clean”.
Australian Sports Minister Sussan Ley said the government would need to see substantial reform at FIFA before considering any further bids.
“Appropriate governance reforms at FIFA must be undertaken, and succeed, before Australia could ever entrust taxpayer dollars towards any bid overseen by FIFA,” she told The Australian newspaper.
About 400 staff at the FIFA headquarters in Zurich applauded Blatter a day after he announced his resignation, sparking a race to take over as head of the world’s richest and most powerful sporting federation.
The vote is not expected until December at the earliest.
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.
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 in the FIFA succession race remain on Michel Platini, the UEFA president who oversaw the 1998 World Cup in France.