FIFA calls Sepp Blatter to face ethics hearing
FIFA placed its own president under investigation Friday in a widening bribery scandal just days before Sepp Blatter is scheduled to face re-election against Mohamed bin Hammam.
FIFA said Blatter, who is accused of turning a blind eye to alleged bribes being paid to Caribbean voters, must submit a statement by Saturday before facing an ethics committee hearing in Zurich on Sunday.
''I cannot comment on the proceedings that have been opened against me. The facts will speak for themselves,'' Blatter said in a statement released by his campaign advisers.
With both presidential candidates now under investigation, it is unclear how next Wednesday's election will be affected.
Bin Hammam, a Qatari official who has been accused of buying votes, claimed there was ''increasing evidence of a conspiracy'' against him and said he was 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 scheduled to deliver the panel's initial findings at a news conference Sunday evening at FIFA headquarters. The candidates face being banned if wrongdoing is proven, or provisionally suspended if the panel needs more time to study evidence.
Bin Hammam and senior FIFA official Jack Warner were summoned Wednesday to face the ethics panel on charges of bribing voters during a Caribbean campaign visit.
The allegations were leveled 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 rival from the race as ''ludicrous.''
''In the report submitted by ... Chuck Blazer earlier this week, FIFA vice president Jack Warner would have informed the FIFA President in advance about alleged cash payments to delegations attending a special meeting of the Caribbean Football Union,'' FIFA said in a statement Friday.
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 United States entry visa.
Bin Hammam requested Thursday that FIFA also investigate Blatter in the affair that has thrown football's governing body into chaos and left the scheduled election up in the air.
Bin Hammam claimed Blatter broke ethics rules by not reporting alleged corruption attempts. FIFA's ethics rules require officials to ''report any evidence of violations of conduct.''
Bin Hammam, Warner and two CFU officials were summoned before the ethics panel based on Blazer's explosive file of evidence.
Blatter ''had no issue'' with the bribes being arranged, according to bin Hammam's formal complaint.
Warner, a senior FIFA official for 28 years, allegedly said that ''the FIFA President would have had no issue'' with the payments.
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, who is 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.
UEFA President Michel Platini, a contender to be FIFA president in 2015, said Friday he expected next week's election to proceed.
''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,'' the French playing great said in London.
British Sports Minister Hugh Robertson said the election had ''descended into a farce'' and should be postponed.
In Moscow, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin offered support to Blatter, calling the allegations against him ''complete nonsense.'' Putin was a a key figure in Russia's winning bid for the 2018 World Cup.
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 ahead of the 2018 and 2022 World Cup votes.
FIFA was sifting through evidence Friday while also preparing for next week's gathering of 208 football nations in Zurich. Blatter has called for allegations 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 football 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 football 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.