independent

Friday 18 April 2014

Sepp Blatter feels the heat over ethics probe

FIFA President Sepp Blatter attends a news conference at the Home of FIFA in Zurich, March 19, 2013. REUTERS/Michael Buholzer (SWITZERLAND - Tags: SPORT SOCCER)
FIFA President Sepp Blatter

FIFA president Sepp Blatter faced calls to resign today over the findings of an ethics investigation into a bribery scandal involving leading football officials and collapsed marketing partner ISL.

Blatter's handling of the case was labelled "clumsy" but not misconduct by the investigation - though it questioned whether he knew or should have known about the millions of pounds of bribes paid to his predecessor Joao Havelange and two other South American FIFA members.

 

Havelange has resigned as FIFA's honorary president in the wake of the findings, it emerged today, and Damian Collins, an MP who sits on the culture, media and sport select committee and who has led a campaign for FIFA reform, insists Blatter should follow suit.

 

Collins told the Press Association: "Sepp Blatter should himself resign for his failure to expose the wrongdoing sooner, and to take action earlier against those who had done wrong.

 

"In the light of this report, it is even more incredible that the FIFA executive committee continue to resist calls, from its own advisors, for greater independent scrutiny of its decisions, and the financial interests of its members.

 

"The impression created by this report is one of an attempted cover-up by FIFA of this massive corruption scandal motivated by the desire to protect some of its leading officials."

 

The long-awaited reported by FIFA's ethics committee into the ISL scandal named Havelange and two former FIFA members Ricardo Teixeira and Nicolas Leoz as receiving bribes. All three have since resigned from FIFA.

 

The report by FIFA Adjudicatory Chamber chairman Hans-Joachim Eckert states: "Mr Havelange has long held solely an honorary position, which does not qualify him as an 'official' under the code of ethics. Further, Mr Havelange resigned his position as honorary president effective 18.04.2013."

 

Eckert does question Blatter's role in the scandal, however.

 

He states: "It must be questioned, however, whether President Blatter knew or should have known over the years before the bankruptcy of ISL that ISL had made payments (bribes) to other FIFA officials."

 

The report states that in 1997, Blatter authorised the transfer of 1.5million Swiss francs (£1million) to Havelange after ISL mistakenly sent it to FIFA. But Blatter, who was then general secretary of the organisation when Havelange was president, told the ethics investigation "at that time he did not suspect the payment was a commission".

 

"President Blatter's conduct could not be classified in any way as misconduct with regard to any ethics rules," says the report. "The conduct of President Blatter may have been clumsy because there could be an internal need for clarification, but this does not lead to any criminal or ethical misconduct."

 

Blatter immediately issued a statement welcoming that he had been cleared of misconduct.

 

He said: "I also note with satisfaction that this report confirms that 'President Blatter's conduct could not be classified in any way as misconduct with regard to any ethics rules'.

 

"I have no doubt that FIFA, thanks to the governance reform process that I proposed, now has the mechanisms and means to ensure that such an issue - which has caused untold damage to the reputation of our institution - does not happen again."

 

The ethics report does not state the total sum of bribes paid but says they took place over eight years between 1992 and May 2000.

 

"From money that passed through the ISMM/ISL Group, it is certain that not inconsiderable amounts were channelled to former FIFA President Havelange and to his son-in-law Ricardo Teixeira as well as to Dr Nicolas Leoz, whereby there is no indication that any form of service was given in return by them.

 

"These payments were apparently made via front companies in order to cover up the true recipient and are to be qualified as 'commissions', known today as 'bribes'."

 

Court documents state Havelange, now aged 96, received at least £1million and Teixeira at least £8.4million, and in total the pair may have received up to £14.5m. Leoz, from Paraguay and now aged 84, was named in court as having received at least £80,000.

 

FIFA's ethics committee meanwhile banned Sri Lanka's executive committee member Vernon Manilal Fernando for eight years.

 

A statement from FIFA did not give details of the reason for the ban other than Fernando was "found guilty of several breaches of the FIFA Code of Ethics".

 

Fernando, 63, has been a member of the FIFA executive since 2011 is a former close ally of Mohamed Bin Hamman, who was banned for life in December for conflicts on interest while president of the Asian Football Confederation.

 

 

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