FIFA president Sepp Blatter has run through an agenda of controversies in what a Swiss newspaper has labelled as “his most frank interview ever.”
In it Blatter, responding to the thunderous fall-out from publication of the ISL file, indicated that he would push for Joao Havelange to be stripped on his honorary presidency, that there was a possible issue over how Germany won host rights to the 2006 World Cup and how he once turned down a $50,000 bribe.
Blatter’s interview, with the Sunday sister paper of the tabloid Blick, followed publication of the ISL file which confirmed that long-time FIFA leader Havelange and his former son-in-law Ricardo Teixeira – a former exco member and Brazilian football boss – had accepted bribes worth more than £14m over a decade.
Blatter has always denied having received illicit payments. To buttress his credibility he said: “When I was general secretary of FIFA the president of a country came to me. It was about a game from which the winners would qualify for the 1986 World Cup. He was here in FIFA. On his departure, he came to me and said: ‘It would be good if the referee would be on our side.’ Then he handed me an envelope.
“I went back to the office, opened the envelope and found $50,000 in it. I brought the money to our accountant. He suggested opening an account in this man’s name and depositing the money in it. Two weeks later, he had collected the money. Since then, no-one has ever offered me a bribe.”
No action was taken over the official because, according to Blatter: “We had no ethics committee at the time. He gave me the money, I gave it back to him. Finish.”
Critics of Blatter – including Germany’s federation president Wolfgang Niersbach and league boss Reinhard Rauball – have expressed disbelief that Blatter claimed not to know about the monies being paid by ISL, FIFA’s marketing partner, to the two Brazilians over such a long period.
The Swiss prosecutor claimed, in his report, that FIFA officials did know about the bribes and did nothing. However Blatter insisted he did not learn of the payments until after ISL’s £300m bankruptcy in 2001.
He said: “The Federal Court papers have given the lie to all those people who claimed for years that I had received bribes. It’s official, I have always said: I have never received any kickbacks.
“Now the same people attack me from another direction: ‘OK, he did not take any bribes but he must have known it.’ I say: No, again, only after the collapse of ISL, years later. And then we have open up the matter and set this ball rolling.
“The bribes for Havelange went direct into his private account – except once when a cheque for more than one million landed by mistake at the FIFA offices. That same day the money was retuned to ISL.
“But – and I repeat – it was only after the collapse of ISL in 2001 and the criminal investigation, that light was shone into this darkness.”
Blatter said he would never have believed that Havelange, his boss for 25 years until Blatter succeeded the Brazilian in 1998, would have taken a bribe.
He said: “Havelange is and was a great patriarch. He is a multimillionaire. That he should have accepted a bribe would have been inconceivable for me. He did not need.”
Asked about Havelange’s status as honorary president, Blatter said: “I will ask the executive committee that the issue should be discussed at the next congress in 2013 . . . [my personal opinion is] he has to go. He can not remain honorary president after all this.”
German officials – at both national and club level – have been among Blatter’s fiercest critics. But Blatter suggested that the German game might not be entirely whiter than white.
This was a reference to long-existing allegations concerning the deals which were done behind the scenes in the 2006 World Cup bidding process. Concerns have long been raised over certain TV deals – and also about the ultimate vote in the FIFA executive.
The Oceania president, Charles Dempsey, quit the meeting before the vote which thus tilted by one vote in favour of Germany against South Africa. Blatter claimed the vote was 10 to nine, in fact it was 12 to 11.
Recalling the vote, Blatter said: “Maybe I was too relaxed and naïve about what happened.”
He was asked: Did you think the 2006 World Cup had been ‘bought’?
Blatter: “I am not speculating about anything, just making an observation.”
** FIFA has registered a formal complaint with the Swiss daily newspaper Tages Anzeiger over an aticle headed: “Sepp Blatter justifies corruption at FIFA.”