FIFA Report Clears Blatter Of Misconduct In Bribery Case; Havelange Resigns Post
A long-awaited report said that FIFA President Sepp Blatter "has been cleared of misconduct" in his handling of a multimillion-dollar bribery scandal despite being "clumsy," according to Ashling O'Connor of the LONDON TIMES. Although the report clears Blatter, the findings "have prompted fresh calls for his resignation." MP Damian Collins, who has campaigned for FIFA reform, called on the president to stand down over “an attempted cover-up.” Collins: "Sepp Blatter should himself resign for his failure to expose the wrongdoing sooner, and to take action earlier against those who had done wrong." Former FIFA President João Havelange, who ruled from '74 to '98, "resigned as honorary president of world football’s governing body on April 18." His resignation, however, was not made public until Tuesday "along with the findings" of a FIFA-appointed committee investigating allegations of multimillion-dollar bribes received by its senior members during the '90s. The committee, chaired by German judge Hans-Joachim Eckert, concluded that Havelange, who is 96 and in poor health, his former son-in-law, Ricardo Teixeira, who quit last year as Brazilian football president, and Nicolas Leoz, who last week quit as the South America Football Confederation president, were paid “not inconsiderable amounts” in bribes from ISL, the Swiss sports marketing company that went bankrupt in '01, exposing "irregular payments through a network of off-shore trusts" (LONDON TIMES, 4/30).
CASE CLOSED: REUTERS' Brian Homewood wrote the report said any action against Havelange and Leoz would be "superfluous" following their resignations. The report said, "The ISL [Int'l Sports and Leisure] case is concluded for the ethics committee," adding that FIFA only introduced an ethics code in '04. It continued, "No further proceedings related to the ISL matter are warranted against any other football official." Eckert also referred to a payment of 1.5 million Swiss francs ($1.6M) which was sent to FIFA in '97 and "earmarked for Havelange." When it was brought to Blatter's attention, "he ordered it to be returned to ISL" (REUTERS, 4/30). BLOOMBERG's Christopher Elser wrote Eckert said Blatter's conduct couldn't be classified "in any way as misconduct with regard to any ethics rules," as there was no evidence that he received money from ISL (BLOOMBERG, 4/30). The BBC reported FIFA granted ISL "exclusive rights to market World Cup tournaments to some of the world's biggest brands." ISL "also received millions more" from negotiating TV broadcast rights. The company "collapsed with huge debts" in '01 and its arrangement with FIFA "was subsequently investigated by Swiss authorities." FIFA was eventually forced by the Swiss supreme court to release documents relating to the case "after it repeatedly attempted to block the release of the confidential papers" (BBC, 4/30).
BLATTER RESPONDS: In London, Ben Rumsby reported Blatter himself "was typically triumphalist." Blatter: "I note in particular that, in his conclusions, Chairman Eckert states that ‘the ISL case is concluded for the Ethics Committee’ and that ‘no further proceedings related to the ISL matter are warranted against any other football official.'" He added, "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'" (TELEGRAPH, 4/30).
CRITICS ABOUND: The PA's Martyn Zeigler reported Eckert "does question Blatter's role in the scandal." Eckert: "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" (PA, 4/30). In London, Roger Blitz wrote the report "failed to satisfy" FIFA’s critics. U.K. Parliament Opposition Spokesperson on Sport Clive Efford said: “We can only conclude from the fact that no one in FIFA questioned why a major TV contractor paid £1M ($1.5M) to President Havelange that it was commonplace for backhanders to be accepted by high ranking officials within the organization.” Efford added FIFA had "acted like a clearing bank" for the payment "and simply passed the money on with no questions asked" (FINANCIAL TIMES, 4/30).