LONDON, Dec 7, (AFP): US authorities are investigating evidence indicating FIFA’s suspended president Sepp Blatter knew about $100 million (92 million euros) in bribes paid to former members of the football body, a BBC report said Sunday.
The BBC investigation alleges that sports marketing company ISL paid a total of $100 million to officials including ex-FIFA president Joao Havelange and former FIFA executive Ricardo Teixeira.
In return, the company received television and marketing rights during the 1990s, the report said.
Blatter has maintained he was unaware of the payments, but the BBC said it had seen a letter obtained by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the United States that casts doubt on his denial.
The letter refers to the ISL payments and is alleged to have been written by Havelange, who notes that Blatter had “full knowledge of all activities” and was “always apprised” of them.
Blatter was Havelange’s top deputy before taking over from Havelange as FIFA president in 1998.
The BBC said Blatter had declined to respond to their allegations.
Blatter, who was suspended in October for 90 days by FIFA’s ethics committee, is due to stand down in February.
Separate from the reported US probe, Blatter has also become the target of a Swiss criminal investigation over possible mismanagement at FIFA and a $2 million payment made in 2011 to his would-be successor, UEFA boss Michel Platini.
The Swiss criminal probe spurred FIFA’s internal ethics watchdog to launch a further inquiry.
FIFA investigators finalised their probe in November, turning evidence over to the ethics committee’s judges, who will issue a verdict this month.
Platini is implicated in the same probe and investigators have called for a lifetime ban against him, but the requested punishment against Blatter is not yet known.
US prosecutors are investigating several top football officials in a quest to root out graft at FIFA.
Late last week, 16 officials were charged over corruption in what the US justice department called an “outrageous” betrayal of trust by those who govern the world’s most beloved sport.
The most recent charges included the pre-dawn arrests of two FIFA vice presidents at a luxury Zurich hotel.
While eight people implicated in US investigations have already pleaded guilty, Attorney General Loretta Lynch has said there remain 27 defendants from within global football alleged to have taken more than $200 million (183 million euros) in bribes and kickbacks over decades.
Fallen Trinidad and Tobago honcho Jack Warner has accused the US of trying to “take over” FIFA with its anti-corruption investigations, alleging that the country is seeking to strip Qatar and Russia of their upcoming World Cups.
Michel Platini however is hopeful that a new memo allegedly showing a payment agreement with suspended FIFA boss Sepp Blatter will clear his name in a corruption case and re-ignite the Frenchman’s bid to become the next president of world soccer’s governing body.
Facing a possible life ban for corruption, the suspended UEFA president was charged over a controversial $2 million payment from FIFA in 2011 that Blatter said he approved as backdated salary for work by Platini as a presidential adviser from 1998-2002.
Platini’s communication team claimed Sunday that a 23-page memo they obtained earlier this week shows that UEFA’s executive committee was aware of a deal with Blatter as early as November 1998.
Blatter and Platini are expected to appear before the FIFA ethics committee within two weeks.
The document, which was leaked to French newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche, is an agenda for a UEFA executive committee meeting dated Nov 12, 1998. At the time, Platini was not a member of the UEFA executive committee and had contributed to Blatter’s successful campaign for the FIFA presidency.
In an annex to the memo, a small note related to Platini’s role with Blatter mentions that he is expected to become the federation’s next director of sports.
According to Platini’s communication team, the former soccer great’s payment for his work with Blatter is clearly mentioned in the note, which reads: “There has been talk about Sfr 1 million as salary.”
Platini previously said he had a verbal agreement with Blatter to be paid one million Swiss Francs per year.
“Contrary to the thesis on which the case is built, this document demonstrates that Platini’s contract with FIFA was not kept secret, and that many people within UEFA and FIFA were aware of it since 1998,” Platini’s lawyer Thibaud d’Ales said.
The document was distributed during a meeting attended by then UEFA president Lennart Johansson, who lost to Blatter in the 1998 FIFA election, as well as three members of FIFA, Platini’s advisers said.
Both Blatter and Platini deny any wrongdoing and claim they had a verbal contract for Platini to receive the money. Under Swiss law, FIFA did not need to pay the money after five years had passed since Platini’s job ended.
The two presidents face separate hearings — likely at FIFA headquarters — before the ethics court led by German judge Joachim Eckert. Like Platini, Blatter is also serving a 90-day interim ban pending the verdict.
Platini wants to clear his name and stand as a candidate to succeed Blatter in the FIFA presidential election on Feb 26.
The former treasurer of South America’s football federation promised Sunday to cooperate with a massive probe into corruption at FIFA.
Romer Osuna, 72, who also once headed Bolivia’s football federation, promised to work with investigators leading the international probe that already has implicated several Latin American officials.
“I am ready to appear before the justice system,” the former CONMEBOL treasurer said in a statement published in Bolivian newspapers.
“The American authorities can subpoena me at their convenience, be it in the United States or Bolivia.”
Osuna is among 16 South American football officials charged last week in the scandal that first exploded last May at the world football’s governing body.
Two of the officials, Paraguayan Juan Angel Napout and Honduran Alfredo Hawit, were arrested in a dawn raid on a Zurich hotel, while indictments have been issued for the others.