Sepp Blatter put under probe, FIFA says
GENEVA -- FIFA placed its own president, Sepp Blatter, under investigation Friday in a widening bribery scandal just days before Blatter faces re-election against Mohamed bin Hammam.
With both candidates now under investigation, it is unclear whether Wednesday's election will proceed.
Blatter is accused of ignoring alleged bribes to Caribbean voters, and soccer's governing body said he must submit a statement by Saturday before appearing at an ethics committee hearing in Zurich the next day.
"I cannot comment on the proceedings that have been opened against me," Blatter said in a statement released by his advisers. "The facts will speak for themselves."
Bin Hammam denies accusations of buying votes. The Qatari official contends there is "increasing evidence of a conspiracy" against him, and he is confident the ethics panel will "see through this tawdry maneuver" to remove him from the race.
Namibian judge Petrus Damaseb, who will chair the ethics hearing, is to deliver the panel's initial findings Sunday night at FIFA headquarters. The candidates could be banned if wrongdoing is found or provisionally suspended if the panel needs more time to study evidence.
Bin Hammam requested on Thursday that FIFA also investigate Blatter in the affair that has thrown the sport's leadership into chaos. British sports minister Hugh Robertson said the election had "descended into a farce" and should be postponed.
Michel Platini, president of European soccer's ruling organization and a former French soccer great, is a contender to be FIFA president in 2015. He said in London on Friday that he expected next week's election to be held.
"To not have elections, you need three-quarters of the assembly who will say, 'No elections,' " said Platini, a FIFA executive member for nine years who has never been linked to scandal. "You know the people who are corrupt; they know who can be corruptible. They know I am incorruptible."
In Moscow, Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin offered support to Blatter, calling the allegations "complete nonsense." Putin was a a key figure in Russia's winning bid for the 2018 World Cup.
Bin Hammam and senior FIFA official Jack Warner were summoned Wednesday to go before an ethics panel on charges of bribing voters during a Caribbean campaign visit.
The allegations were made by American FIFA executive committee member Chuck Blazer. Blatter, who is seeking a fourth term as FIFA president, has described suggestions he "masterminded" the scandal to remove his Qatari rival from the race as "ludicrous."
Up to 25 delegates who have votes in the election were allegedly offered cash bribes at the May 10-11 conference in Warner's native Trinidad, where he is a government minister. Delegates were allegedly offered $40,000 in cash for "development projects."
"Nobody has ever tried to hide the fact that Mr. bin Hammam paid for the delegates' travel and accommodation expenses and covered the meeting's administrative costs," a statement on the Qatari official's blog said Friday.
The meeting was set up after bin Hammam, who travels on a diplomatic passport, missed the CONCACAF regional body's congress in Miami, citing problems getting a U.S. entry visa.
Bin Hammam contends Blatter broke ethics rules by not reporting apparent corruption attempts. FIFA's ethics rules require officials to "report any evidence of violations of conduct."
Bin Hammam, Warner and two Caribbean Football Union officials were ordered to go before the ethics panel based on Blazer's explosive file of evidence.
Warner, a senior FIFA official for 28 years, allegedly said "the FIFA president would have had no issue" with the payments.
Sepp Blatter becomes the eighth current member of FIFA's 24-man ruling panel under investigation for alleged corruption.
Support from the Caribbean has long been seen as crucial to unseating Blatter, who took the presidency in 1998 when bin Hammam helped manage his campaign.
Blazer, the highest-ranking American in FIFA, has been an executive committee and CONCACAF regional body colleague of the men he accuses for more than 15 years.
Blatter is the eighth current member of FIFA's 24-man ruling panel under investigation for alleged corruption. Two former members were suspended after a British newspaper investigation into vote-trading leading to the 2018 and 2022 World Cup votes.
FIFA was sifting through evidence Friday while also preparing for next week's gathering of 208 soccer nations in Zurich. Blatter has called for accusations made in a British Parliamentary inquiry this month to be resolved before election day.
Lawmakers published claims two weeks ago from a Qatari bid whistleblower that African soccer president Issa Hayatou of Cameroon and Jacques Anouma of the Ivory Coast received $1.5 million bribes to vote for the emirate's successful 2022 bid.
The former head of England's failed 2018 bid, David Triesman, told the inquiry that Warner asked for money to build an education center and buy 2010 World Cup broadcast rights for Haiti. Warner denied the allegation.
Triesman said three other FIFA voters made improper requests for inducements: Nicolas Leoz, South America's soccer president from Paraguay; Ricardo Teixeira, who heads Brazil's 2014 World Cup preparations; and Worawi Makudi, a bin Hammam loyalist from Thailand. They have all denied the accusations.
FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke and legal director Marco Villiger will take the lead on making decisions on whether any officials should face separate ethics investigations.
The ethics panel suspended Nigerian Amos Adamu and Reynald Temarii from Tahiti last November following an undercover sting by The Sunday Times. Adamu is appealing his three-year ban for bribery to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, and Temarii accepted his one-year sanction for breaking FIFA loyalty rules.
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press