FIFA’s Blazer admits in court: “We took bribes to award SA 2010 World Cup.”

You have to wonder what planet SA’s Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula lives on. Yesterday he categorically told the world (yes, the world is listening to this one) a cock ‘n bull story about SA paying $10m to fund some soccer academy in Trinidad and Tobago. The words that are sure to haunt him: “This is not a bribe but an above board payment duly allocated for an approved programme. We will therefore await the United States authorities to share with us the basis with which they allege that this was a bribe. We would like to categorically deny that we bribed anyone to secure the rights for the 2010 World Cup.” Well, he hasn’t had to wait long. Last night the US judiciary unsealed the transcript of the court appearance by former head of American soccer and long-time FIFA executive, Chuck Blazer (70), who has cancer and seemingly wants to die after confessing his sins. You can read the whole of it here, but for the juicy stuff skip to page 30. You’ll soon come across Blazer’s smoking gun: “I and others on the FIFA executive committee agreed to accept bribes in conjunction with the selection of South Africa as the host nation for the 2010 World Cup.” So what now Mr Mbalula? Danny Jordaan? Molefe Oliphant? How about resigning? Quickly, before you do even more damage to our national reputation. – Alec Hogg

Then-FIFA executive members Chuck Blazer (L) of the U.S and Ricardo Teixera of Brazil attend the 61st FIFA congress at the Hallenstadion in Zurich, Switzerland, in this June 1, 2011 file photo. Blazer, a U.S. citizen, secretly pleaded guilty to 10 criminal counts in New York as part of an agreement with U.S. prosecutors, according to a partially blacked out transcript of the hearing released on June 3, 2015. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann/Files
Then-FIFA executive members Chuck Blazer (L) of the U.S and Ricardo Teixera of Brazil attend the 61st FIFA congress at the Hallenstadion in Zurich, Switzerland, in this June 1, 2011 file photo. Blazer, a U.S. citizen, secretly pleaded guilty to 10 criminal counts in New York as part of an agreement with U.S. prosecutors, according to a partially blacked out transcript of the hearing released on June 3, 2015. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann/Files

By Joseph Ax

NEW YORK, June 3 (Reuters) – A former executive committee member of soccer’s global governing body FIFA told a U.S. judge in November 2013 that he and other officials took bribes in connection with the 1998 and 2010 World Cups, among other major tournaments.

Chuck Blazer, a U.S. citizen, secretly pleaded guilty to 10 criminal counts in New York as part of an agreement with U.S. prosecutors, according to a partially blacked out transcript of the hearing released on Wednesday.

According to U.S. officials, Blazer’s cooperation helped build a sprawling corruption case that has led to charges against top FIFA figures and prompted the resignation on Tuesday of longtime president Sepp Blatter.

Blazer served as an executive committee member of FIFA from 1997 to 2013 and was the general secretary of CONCACAF, soccer’s governing body in North and Central America and the Caribbean, from 1990 to 2011.

“Among other things, I agreed with other persons in or around 1992 to facilitate the acceptance of a bribe in conjunction with the selection of the host nation for the 1998 World Cup,” Blazer told U.S. District Judge Raymond Dearie during a closed-door proceeding in Brooklyn federal court on the morning of Nov. 25, 2013, according to the transcript.

Though France won the bidding to host the tournament, separate court documents claim Morocco paid the bribe in connection with the 1998 World Cup.

Blazer added that from 2004 to 2011, “I and others on the FIFA executive committee agreed to accept bribes in conjunction with the selection of South Africa as the host nation for the 2010 World Cup.”

U.S. authorities have said South Africa paid a $10 million bribe while bidding to be the 2010 World Cup host. The country has confirmed the payment but said it was a donation to support soccer development in the Caribbean, not a bribe.

Blazer also admitted to taking kickbacks related to five different editions of CONCACAF’s premier event, the Gold Cup, between 1996 and 2003.

“I knew my actions were wrong at the time,” he said.

A lawyer for Blazer declined to comment.

Many of the details were revealed in documents released by U.S. authorities last week, when they announced indictments for 14 people, including nine FIFA officials.

Blazer, 70, is one of four defendants in the case who pleaded guilty in secret and agreed to assist U.S. investigators.

During his plea, he said he suffered from health problems. Friends of Blazer say he is currently hospitalized and unable to speak due to a breathing tube.

FIFA extends graft investigation to Russia, Qatar awards

By Mark Hosenball and Katharina Bart

NEW YORK/ZURICH, June 3 (Reuters) – The FBI’s investigation of bribery and corruption at FIFA includes scrutiny of how soccer’s governing body awarded World Cup hosting rights to Russia and Qatar, a U.S. law enforcement official said.

Russia and Qatar have denied wrongdoing in the conduct of their bids for the 2018 and 2022 tournaments, which were not the subject of charges announced by U.S. prosecutors a week ago against FIFA officials that stunned world soccer.

The U.S. law enforcement official, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said the review of the bids would be part of a probe that goes beyond the indictments. Among issues the FBI is examining is the stewardship of FIFA by longtime president Sepp Blatter, who unexpectedly announced on Tuesday he was resigning shortly before it emerged that he too was under investigation by U.S. law enforcement.

Authorities said last week that they were investigating a case of $150 million paid in bribes over two decades while Swiss prosecutors announced their own criminal inquiry into the 2018 and 2022 bids.

On Wednesday, the partially blacked out transcript of the November 2013 guilty plea of Chuck Blazer, a U.S. citizen and FIFA executive committee member from 1997 to 2013, showed that Blazer and others in FIFA agreed to accept bribes in bidding for the 1998 and 2010 World Cups and other tournaments.

“Among other things, I agreed with other persons in or around 1992 to facilitate the acceptance of a bribe in conjunction with the selection of the host nation for the 1998 World Cup,” Blazer told a federal judge in New York, according to the transcript.

The tournament was hosted by France but separate court documents contain the prosecutors’ allegation that bidding nation Morocco paid a bribe to another FIFA executive, Jack Warner of Trinidad and Tobago, and that Blazer acted as the intermediary. Warner has denied this and other charges against him.

Blazer went on to say in his plea hearing that from 2004 and through 2011 “I and others on the FIFA executive committee agreed to accept bribes in conjunction with the selection of South Africa as the host nation for the 2010 World Cup.”

Blazer’s lawyer declined to comment on Wednesday.

Many of the details were previously revealed in charging documents released by prosecutors when they announced indictments for 14 people, including nine FIFA officials.

Soccer power Brazil hosted the World Cup in 2014 but in the case of Qatar, there was some surprise that the tournament was awarded to a small desert country with no real soccer tradition and where daytime summer temperatures can top 40 degrees Celsius (104F).

Qatar’s Foreign Minister Khaled al-Attiyah said there was no way Qatar would be stripped of its right to host the World Cup because it had had the best bid.

“It is very difficult for some to digest that an Arab Islamic country has this tournament, as if this right can’t be for an Arab state,” he told Reuters in an interview in Paris. “I believe it is because of prejudice and racism that we have this bashing campaign against Qatar.”

For its part, Russia dismissed concerns it might lose the right to host the cup. “Cooperation with FIFA is going on and, most importantly, Russia is continuing preparations for the 2018 World Cup,” President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said.

U.S. authorities said last week that their announcement was the beginning and not the end of the investigation. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said the Department of Justice looked forward to continuing to work with other countries.

BLATTER PRESSURE

A source close to FIFA said it was Blatter’s advisers who had told him he must quit. Critics pointed to the widening criminal probe, disquiet among sponsors, and pressure from European soccer body UEFA as possible reasons.

The international police organisation Interpol put two former top FIFA officials on its wanted list at the request of U.S. authorities.

Interpol issued wanted person alerts for Warner, a former president of CONCACAF, which governs soccer in North and Central America and the Caribbean, and Nicolas Leoz, the ex-head of South America’s soccer federation.

The others subject to the “red notices” – which are not arrest warrants – are Alejandro Burzaco, Hugo and Mariano Jinkis, and Jose Margulies, a Brazilian who headed two companies involved in broadcasting soccer matches.

They are among FIFA officials and sports media and promotion executives named in the U.S. indictment.

FIFA has denied that another senior official, Secretary General Jerome Valcke, was involved in a $10 million payment appr2oved by the South African Football Association that lies at the heart of the U.S. investigation.

At a news conference in Johannesburg, sports minister Fikile Mbalula confirmed the payment to Warner during the bid process but denied it was a bribe. Mbalula said the cash was intended for football development in the Caribbean, Warner’s home region.

Valcke said on Wednesday he was not guilty of corrupt practice relating to the payment and he saw no reason to resign.

Blatter announced his decision to step down six days after police raided a hotel in Zurich and arrested several FIFA officials, and four days after he was re-elected to a fifth term. Blatter has not been charged and FIFA did not respond to a request for comment on his being under investigation.

An election to choose a new president will probably not take place until at least December. Blatter, meanwhile, remains in his position.

FIFA executive committee member Kozo Tashima of Japan told Japanese media that Blatter should go at once.

Former England captain and Manchester United and Real Madrid midfielder David Beckham, who was a major figure in England’s failed bid to host the 2018 World Cup, joined the chorus of calls for change at FIFA, the Fédération Internationale de Football.

“Some of the things that we now know happened were despicable, unacceptable and awful for the game that we love so much,” Beckham told Sky Sports.

In Washington, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Blatter’s resignation was an opportunity for FIFA to improve its image.

“It’s apparent from recent news reports they’d benefit from some new leadership and this is an opportunity for that organization to try to improve their public image and to make sure that the actions of that organization are consistent with their mission,” Earnest said at a briefing with reporters.

LEADERSHIP CANDIDATES

Among potential candidates to lead FIFA, UEFA chief Michel Platini, a former French international soccer star, is the favourite.

Jordan’s Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein, who withdrew from last week’s presidential election after winning 73 votes to Blatter’s 133 in the first round, stopped short of confirming he would run again. Asked if there should be a fresh start at FIFA, he told Britain’s Channel 4 News: “I’m willing to help.”

Chung Mong-joon, billionaire scion of South Korea’s Hyundai conglomerate, said he would consider running.

Possible candidates also include Domenico Scala, the independent chairman of FIFA’s audit and compliance committee.

Others could include former Brazil international Zico, Argentine soccer legend Diego Maradona, Jerome Champagne, a former French diplomat and FIFA deputy secretary general, and German Wolfgang Niersbach, an ex-media chief at FIFA.

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