Sepp Blatter criticises US investigation into Fifa corruption

Re-elected president claims arrests of Fifa officials an attempt to ‘interfere with congress’

 

The re-elected Fifa president, Sepp Blatter, has said he was “shocked” at the way US authorities targeted football’s world body and slammed what he called a “hate” campaign by Europe’s football leaders.

In an interview with Swiss television, Blatter said he suspected the arrest of seven Fifa officials on Wednesday under a US anti-corruption warrant was an attempt to “interfere with the congress” on Friday at which he retained his post.

Commenting on the fact that the arrests came only two days before his election, he told RTS: “I am not certain but it doesn’t smell good.”

Blatter’s attack on corruption investigators came as authorities in the US warned of further charges in the Fifa bribery investigation and investigators in Argentina raided the offices of sports media companies.

The Fifa president condemned comments made by US officials including the attorney general, Loretta Lynch, who said corruption in football was “rampant, systemic and deep-rooted, both abroad and here in the United States”.

Blatter said of the remarks: “Of course I am shocked. I would never as Fifa president make comments about another organisation without being certain of what has happened.”

Richard Weber – the chief of the US Internal Revenue Service unit in charge of criminal investigations and the man who accused Fifa officials of running a “world cup of fraud” when the arrests were announced – said late on Friday that he was “fairly confident” of another round of indictments in the criminal investigation. In Britain the Serious Fraud Office has said it is “actively assessing material in its possession” regarding the Fifa allegations.

“We strongly believe there are other people and entities involved in criminal acts,” Weber was quoted as saying in the New York Times, which added that Weber would not identify the remaining targets of the US investigation or say whether Blatter was among them.

Blatter, in the Swiss interview, noted that the US had lost the 2022 World Cup to Qatar, and England, another major critic, lost the 2018 World Cup to Russia. He said the US was the “number one sponsor” of Jordan, home of his unsuccessful challenger for the the Fifa presidency, Prince Ali bin al-Hussein.

Blatter also hit out at the Uefa president, Michel Platini, who had called for his resignation over the corruption scandals. “It is a hate that comes not just from a person at Uefa,” he said, “it comes from the Uefa organisation that cannot understand that in 1998 I became president.”

Asked whether he would forgive Platini for the resignation calls, Blatter said: “I forgive everyone but I do not forget.”

The Fifa executive committee is to meet in Zurich on Saturday.

Several senior Fifa figures have been indicted over alleged bribery and kickback schemes, although no charges were brought against Blatter, who was re-elected on Friday in a move decried by many because of the huge scandal that has blown up on his watch.

US authorities announced on Wednesday that nine officials and five sports media and promotions executives were charged in cases involving more than $150m in alleged bribes over a period of 24 years. They said their investigation exposed complex money laundering schemes, millions of dollars in untaxed incomes and tens of millions in offshore accounts held by Fifa officials.

On Friday Interpol agents also raided the offices of three Argentinean businessmen accused by the US of paying tens of millions of dollars in bribes, local media reported.

Television pictures showed police officers inside the building that houses Torneos y Competencias (Torneos), a sports media and promotions firm whose president is Alejandro Burzaco, a powerful sports media tycoon.

State-run news agency Telam reported police also entered the offices of Full Play, owned by Hugo Jinkis and his son Mariano.

Burzaco, and Hugo and Mariano Jinkis, all Argentinean citizens, are among the 14 hit with US graft charges.

A judge on Thursday ordered the three men’s arrest and the country’s tax agency formally accused them of tax evasion and money laundering. But on Friday they and two other defendants named on the US indictment had apparently still not been detained.

US officials are seeking to extradite defendants who remain abroad.

The US indictment states Burzaco and the two Jinkises led their companies to form a new entity known as Datisa, and then conspired to win lucrative TV rights through the payment of up to $110m in bribes.

Datisa signed a $317.5m contract with the South American soccer confederation, Conmebol, to obtain exclusive worldwide rights to the 2015, 2019 and 2023 Copa America tournaments, according to the indictment. It later entered a $35m contract with the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football, Concacaf, to acquire rights for another tournament. Three top Conmebol officials, including the president of the Argentinean Football Association (AFA), were to receive a total of $45m in kickbacks, the indictment said. The rest was to be disbursed among other officials.

On Friday, Blatter defied critics and his opponents within Fifa to secure a fifth term at the helm, and vowed to fix things. He said: “Starting tomorrow … I’m being held accountable for the storm. OK, I will shoulder that responsibility.”

But Blatter also appeared to discount his own responsibility for the scandal. “We can’t constantly supervise everyone in football,” he insisted. “You can’t just ask people to behave ethically just like that.”

Blatter’s understated opponent in the leadership vote, Jordanian Prince Ali bin al-Hussein, had warned Fifa delegates that “everything is at stake” in the wake of the dramatic events of this week, when Swiss police swooped on the Baur au Lac hotel to arrest the seven senior Fifa officials. Seven more were charged in the US and four more, including the former Concacaf general secretary Chuck Blazer, pleaded guilty. In all they were charged with 47 counts of money laundering, racketeering and tax evasion.

Ali polled 73 votes to Blatter’s 133. On that showing the Jordanian was eligible to take the contest to a potential second round but he withdrew.

In contrast to his opponent, who sought to rally his “Fifa family”, Prince Ali warned that the world was watching and “Fifa does not exist in a bubble”.

It could yet prove a pyrrhic victory for Blatter, who has weathered the storm in the short term but is left presiding over a split Fifa as he faces the biggest self-inflicted crisis in its 111-year history.

“For the next four years I will be in command of this boat called Fifa and we will bring it back ashore, we will bring it back to the beach,” he said, again promising to make this four-year term his last. “The age is no problem. You have people that are 50 who look old.”

As investigations continue in the US, Uefa, European football’s governing body, will again loudly demand reform.

Its executives meet in Berlin next weekend before the Champions League final and were in militant mood after Blatter triumphed. Its 53 members mostly backed Ali, and Platini said it could withdraw co-operation.

The Football Association’s chairman, Greg Dyke, has said that England could boycott the World Cup if other European nations decided to do so. “This is not over by any means.

To quote the [US]attorney general this is the beginning of the process not the end,” said Dyke after the vote. “The events of this week are so traumatic for Fifa that I cannot see Fifa reforming itself under Blatter. He’s had years to reform it and he hasn’t done it.”

The Portuguese former superstar player Luis Figo, who along with the Dutch FA president, Michael van Praag, withdrew from the presidential race in an attempt to coalesce support behind Ali, was scathing in his criticism of Blatter after the result and called on him to quit.

“If Mr Blatter were minimally concerned about football he would have given up on the re-election. If he has a minimal of decency he will resign in the next few days.”

David Gill, the former Manchester United chief executive who on Friday became a Fifa vice-president, confirmed on Friday night he would carry through his threat to resign immediately because Blatter won.

Despite the spiralling crisis sparked by the US Department of Justice and Swiss prosecutors, Blatter succeeded with an appeal to the 209 member associations to give him another term.

His support in Asia, Africa and pockets of central America and Oceania helped him to victory despite opposition from Europe, the US, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. It allows him to carry on his 17-year reign as president despite having previously promised to stand down in 2015.

But outside the the bubble of the Fifa Congress the pressure on Blatter increased. Jack Warner, the controversial Trinidadian former Concacaf president who was once one of Blatter’s closest allies and among those charged on Wednesday, delivered a thinly veiled threat after being released on bail.

To hoots and applause from supporters in Trinidad, Warner said: “If I have been thieving Fifa money for 30 years, who gave me the money? How come he is not charged?”

After Blatter’s re-election, Fifa sponsors Coca-Cola, Budweiser and McDonald’s called for quick moves to transparency. Credit card company Visa has threatened to “reassess” its sponsorship if Fifa does not clean up its act while Hyundai Motor has said it is “extremely concerned” at the new scandals.

Brazil’s Fifa executive committee member Marco Polo del Nero fled Zurich before the meeting following the arrest of his predecessor, José Maria Marin, on Wednesday. Like the Fifa vice-president Jeffrey Webb, of the Cayman Islands, and five others, Marin is being held in custody while appealing against extradition to the US.

The seven executives arrested in Zurich, including the Fifa vice-presidents Webb and Eugenio Figueredo, remained in custody and were fighting extradition to the US.

The Guardian