TOKYO: Suspended FIFA president Sepp Blatter insisted that a $100 million bribery case in which he is reportedly implicated “is over”, and pleaded ignorance over alleged corruption by top officials at the scandal-hit world body.
Blatter, speaking to Japan’s Nikkei business daily, also protested that he should have been warned before Swiss police arrested seven FIFA officials in May, and said he hoped to return to his job in the coming weeks.
“It was a tsunami,” he said of the May arrests on behalf of US authorities, which plunged the world body into crisis, in the interview published on Friday.
“Swiss authorities should have at least informed me that such a thing would happen,” Blatter said, adding that he was “shocked when I saw, and [what is] still going on, what has happened in the different confederations”.
“I cannot be morally responsible for the bad activities of members of my executive committee when I have no chance to introduce them or to dismiss them,” Blatter said.
The arrests in Zurich kick-started events which forced Blatter to announce his resignation. He is now suspended from FIFA as Swiss authorities investigate the alleged misappropriation of funds and a $2 million payment to UEFA chief Michel Platini.
Blatter, who suffered a health scare last month, said he would be fully recovered by Christmas and hoped to be back in office in time to hand over to his successor, who will be elected on February 26.
“At least I can prepare the congress and I can go out of FIFA at the time when I am still the leader of the congress, because I am still the president of FIFA,” he said, explaining why he is keen to return.
‘Not leaving the command’
The 79-year-old’s problems deepened this month when the BBC said US authorities are investigating evidence indicating he knew about $100 million in bribes paid to former FIFA members.
Sports marketing company ISL is alleged to have paid a total of $100 million to officials including Joao Havelange, Blatter’s predecessor as FIFA chief, and former FIFA executive Ricardo Teixeira, in return for TV and marketing rights in the 1990s.
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.
Blatter said that the bribery case “is over, it is finished. It was solved in court. And it was solved by the FIFA ethics committee”.
Asked whether he knew about the payments to Havelange, his former boss, Blatter reiterated: “It is settled. It was settled by a tribunal in Switzerland. They even went to the highest court. [There] was no harm to me on ethics, nothing.”
Blatter also denied that the reason he has barely left Switzerland for months is that he’s scared of being arrested.
“First, we have been in a crisis. This is my military education: When you are in a crisis, the commander is not leaving the command,” he said, adding that his health was also a factor.
The Swiss added that he wasn’t worried about sponsors leaving FIFA. Major sponsors including Visa and Coca-Cola have demanded reforms including greater transparency and accountability.
“They have just made an alarm clock, but they will not go away,” Blatter said, adding: “There is a new world coming in. China decided to go to football, and there is India.”