The Untouchable in pursuit
of The Unspeakable
Sunday 2 November, 2008
A shiver will likely shimmy down Sepp Blatter’s spine at 10.30 tomorrow morning - three years to the minute since Swiss fraud squad detectives burst through his Zurich office door waving a search warrant.
The police, investigating allegations of misuse of FIFA funds, were seeking incriminating documents. A report is expected to go to prosecutors in the New Year. The raid is understood to have been conducted under Article 158 of the Swiss Penal Code which carries penalties of up to five years jail.
The raid was triggered by the collapse of a Swiss company that over nearly three decades had defeated all rivals to acquire FIFA’s lucrative World Cup marketing rights. The liquidator, Thomas Bauer from Ernst & Young, dug into the company’s bank records and discovered that a gigantic £70 million worth of kickbacks had gone to sports officials.
When Bauer demanded that some FIFA officials repay their bribes a bank account set up by Sepp Blatter’s lawyer channelled more than £1 million back to creditors. Investigating magistrate Thomas Hildbrand, who led the raid, is probing allegations that FIFA money was used to repay the bribes. FIFA has never admitted that it is the target of a complex corruption investigation.
In June 2006, on the eve of the World Cup, I confronted Blatter at Zurich airport and asked him, ‘Why did FIFA pay back the bribes?’ Blatter declined to answer. The BBC filmed the exchange and it was screened world-wide. Blatter didn’t sue.
If charged, Blatter would have to resign the FIFA presidency, to be followed speedily by Julio Grondona and Jack Warner, chair and deputy of FIFA’s finance committee. The tectonic plates of world football would shift and the subsequent quake throw up new leadership – and require new strategies for countries such as England bidding to stage the 2018 World Cup.
FIFA’s reputation is deteriorating in Switzerland. In the spring of this year six marketing executives, some of whom organised paying the bribes to FIFA officials, went on trial accused of embezzling money due to FIFA. The court cleared most of them but ruled that FIFA had misled the police and ordered it to pay £57,000 towards the costs of the investigation.
Watch the fortunes of the wondrous new Westfield shopping mall that opened last Thursday at Shepherds Bush in West London. If shoppers feeling the pinch stay away, will the developer Frank Lowy – controversial billionaire chair of the Australian football federation and new favourite of Sepp Blatter - be able to raise the cash to build his other planned mall in London, the £1.5 billion Olympic Gateway in Stratford, East London? It’s a key part of the 2012 Olympic site.
In early July, before the banks stopped lending, Lowy was Gordon’s Brown’s guest at Downing Street for a ceremonial signing of the Olympic contract to build 300 shops.