October 26, 2016

Blatter in FBI spotlight over $100 mn bribery case

Fake banknotes tossed by a comedian flutter around embattled FIFA chief Sepp Blatter, said by a BBC report to be a target of an FBI inquiry into $100 million in payoffs involving TV and marketing rights. Photo: AFP

London: The United States authorities are investigating evidence indicating FIFA’s suspended president Sepp Blatter knew about $100 million (92 million euros) in bribes paid to former members of the football body, a BBC report said on Sunday.

The BBC investigation alleges that sports marketing company ISL paid a total of $100 million to officials including ex-FIFA president Joao Havelange and former FIFA executive Ricardo Teixeira.

In return, the company received television and marketing rights during the 1990s, the report said.

Blatter has maintained he was unaware of the payments, but the BBC said it had seen a letter obtained by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the United States that casts doubt on his denial.

The letter refers to the ISL payments and is alleged to have been written by Havelange, who notes that Blatter had ‘full knowledge of all activities’ and was ‘always apprised’ of them.

Blatter was Havelange’s top deputy before taking over from Havelange as FIFA president in 1998.

The BBC said Blatter had declined to respond to their allegations.

Blatter, who was suspended in October for 90 days by FIFA’s ethics committee, is due to stand down in February.

Separate from the reported US probe, Blatter has also become the target of a Swiss criminal investigation over possible mismanagement at FIFA and a $2 million payment made in 2011 to his would-be successor, UEFA boss Michel Platini.

The Swiss criminal probe spurred FIFA’s internal ethics watchdog to launch a further inquiry.

FIFA investigators finalised their probe in November, turning evidence over to the ethics committee’s judges, who will issue a verdict this month.

Platini is implicated in the same probe and investigators have called for a lifetime ban against him, but the requested punishment against Blatter is not yet known.

US prosecutors are investigating several top football officials in a quest to root out graft at FIFA.

Late last week, 16 officials were charged over corruption in what the US justice department called an ‘outrageous’ betrayal of trust by those who govern the world’s most beloved sport.

The most recent charges included the pre-dawn arrests of two FIFA vice presidents at a luxury Zurich hotel.

While eight people implicated in US investigations have already pleaded guilty, Attorney General Loretta Lynch has said there remain 27 defendants from within global football alleged to have taken more than $200 million (183 million euros) in bribes and kickbacks over decades.

Fallen Trinidad and Tobago honcho Jack Warner has accused the US of trying to ‘take over’ FIFA with its anti-corruption investigations, alleging that the country is seeking to strip Qatar and Russia of their upcoming World Cups.

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