FIFA official dismisses questions about corruption

Published 3:42 pm Saturday, May 30, 2015

ZURICH (AP) — Invigorated by his FIFA election win, Sepp Blatter dismissed any suggestion Saturday that the American investigation into soccer corruption could yet lead to his door.

Blatter insisted he had nothing to fear from a U.S. federal case which alleged a $150 million bribe scheme in international football. Several senior FIFA officials have been arrested already, but Blatter shrugged of the notion that he could be next.

“Arrested for what? Next question,” Blatter dismissed curtly, in his first meeting with international media since the dual American and Swiss investigations rocked FIFA’s home city Zurich on Wednesday.

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He was equally dismissive of other questions surrounding the investigation.

Was he the “high-ranking FIFA official” mentioned in the Department of Justice indictment who wired $10 million for apparent bribes to corrupt North American officials who voted for South Africa as the 2010 World Cup host?

“Definitely that is not me,” the 79-year-old Blatter said. “I have no $10 million.”

After winning a closer vote than he would have liked Friday for a fifth four-year term, Blatter came out fighting — first criticizing U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch in an interview with his local Swiss broadcaster.

Lynch said Wednesday that indicted FIFA and marketing officials had “corrupted the business of worldwide soccer to serve their interests and to enrich themselves.”

“I was shocked by what she said,” Blatter told French-language broadcaster RTS. “As a president I would never make a statement about another organization without knowing.”

Two FIFA vice presidents and a recently elected FIFA executive committee member were among the seven men detained and accused of racketeering, money laundering and fraud in connection with bribes linked to tournament television rights in North and South America.

Blatter suggested the U.S. Department of Justice went too far in its actions which brought a torrent of condemnation down on FIFA, which he has led for 17 years.

“Listen, with all the respect to the judicial system of the U.S. with a new minister of justice,” Blatter said, “the Americans, if they have a financial crime that regards American citizens then they must arrest these people there and not in Zurich when we have a congress.”

With those comments having set the tone for the Saturday morning news conference, Blatter brushed aside questions about his exposure to interrogation or potential charges.

“I have especially no concerns about my person,” he said about an investigation that U.S. federal agencies said is just starting.

The seven FIFA officials are in a Zurich jail, resisting U.S. attempts to extradite them.

On Friday, FIFA member federations ignored the global protests to elect Blatter to a fifth four-year term at the age of 79, voting 133-73 in favor of the Swiss against challenger Prince Ali bin al-Hussein.

He even suggested a political motive for the American investigation.

“The United States, it is the main sponsors of the Hashemite kingdom,” Blatter told RTS, referring to the Jordanian prince’s home country.

Emboldened by his election win, Blatter explained his earlier comments Friday that FIFA’s legal problems stemmed from choosing Russia and Qatar five years ago as the 2018 and 2022 World Cup hosts.

“The Americans were the candidates for the World Cup of 2022 and they lost,” he said. “The English were the candidates for 2018 and they lost, so it was really with the English media and the American movement that came down.”

Blatter’s comments echo those of his close ally Vladimir Putin. The Russian president said this week that the U.S. was meddling in FIFA’s affairs to influence the election and provoke his country being stripped of World Cup hosting rights. Putin sent a telegram to Blatter on Saturday congratulating him on the victory.

Lynch has said the American federal case is just at the beginning, with 14 men indicted and four more making guilty pleas, including American former longtime FIFA executive committee member Chuck Blazer.

The seven detained in Zurich are fighting extradition to the U.S. and face 20 years in prison.

They include CONCACAF president Jeffrey Webb, a banker from the Cayman Islands. Webb was a member of FIFA’s audit committee more than a decade ago when Blatter’s organization was in severe financial crisis after a World Cup marketing agency collapsed into bankruptcy.

A separate Swiss federal investigation is also under way into possible financial corruption during the 2018-2022 bidding contests. Russian and Qatari bid officials have always denied wrongdoing.

FIFA’s headquarters was also raided early Wednesday to seize evidence for the investigation which was prompted by a criminal complaint filed by Blatter last November.