Washington/Paris - Ailing former FIFA official Chuck Blazer admits that he and others accepted bribes before the votes that gave the 1998 World Cup to France and the 2010 World Cup to South Africa, according to newly unsealed US court documents.
A former FIFA executive committee member, Blazer confessed to taking bribes in connection with the votes on the two World Cup hosts, according to a transcript released Wednesday of his November 2013 plea hearing in a closed Brooklyn federal courtroom.
His guilty plea was kept secret until May 27, apparently allowing him to testify before a US grand jury against some of the nine FIFA officials and five others indicted last week in the United States in an investigation of bribery and corruption in the world football organization.
At FIFA headquarters in Zurich, newly re-elected president Joseph Blatter received warm applause Wednesday at a staff meeting, dpa was told, a day after he announced his plan to quit by early next year.
Meanwhile, six other officials were put on the Interpol wanted list for racketeering conspiracy and corruption.
Seven FIFA officials were arrested last week in Zurich on the US indictments, pending extradition proceedings, as the New York-based corruption investigation became public.
Swiss authorities are investigating the World Cup host elections for 2018 and 2022 in a separate probe.
Citing sources familiar with the case, The New York Times and US broadcaster ABC News reported that federal authorities were investigating Blatter.
Blatter's successor will face the daunting task of transforming FIFA into a transparent organization through "fundamental changes," as outlined by audit and compliance committee chairman Domenico Scala.
South African Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula dismissed allegations that a 10-million-dollar payment to the Caribbean Football Union (CFU) was a bribe in their successful bid to host the 2010 World Cup.
Eighteen months ago, Blazer sat in a wheelchair on November 25, 2013, as he told the US court that he was ill with rectal cancer, diabetes and coronary artery disease. He read out his 19-page guilty plea and was released on a 10-million-dollar bond.
He remained last week at a New York hospital, The New York Times reported.
The judge in the case granted prosecutors' request to keep the courtroom closed, saying public knowledge of Blazer's plea would "irreparably damage" the investigation and potential further prosecution.
General secretary of the Central America and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) from 1990-2011, Blazer pleaded guilty to accepting bribes and kickbacks in connection with five of the regional group's Gold Cup tournaments from 1996-2003.
His admission of bribery in the World Cup and Gold Cup cases could carry a sentence of up to 20 years.
In the 2013 court session, Blazer admitted to six counts of tax evasion, stemming from his failure to pay income taxes from 2005-10, and failure to report to the Internal Revenue Service that he held more than 10,000 dollars in foreign accounts.
The tax evasion apparently helped bring Blazer to the notice of federal officials. A 2013 CONCACAF investigation had found that he had "misappropriated" more than 15 million dollars of the regional body's money to finance his personal lifestyle.
Blazer has already paid 1.9 million dollars in fines, which officials have indicated is only part of what he owes the US government.In connection with the award of the 1998 World Cup to France, Blazer was present in 1992 when another FIFA official accepted a 1-million-dollar bribe offer from the Moroccan bid committee to vote for the North African country, according to the indictment document.
South African Sports Minister Mbalula denied that the payment to the CFU was a bribe, but an "above-the-board" payment to an "approved project."
"There were no suitcases. The money went from bank to bank," Mbalula told a news conference, calling on the US to give proof of bribery allegations and pledging to share any information with the US government.
The payment in 2008 to the Caribbean - four years after South Africa was chosen to host over Morocco and Egypt - was part of South Africa's policy of supporting sports in Africa and its diaspora, Mbalula said, and "never tied to the issue of votes."
He said Blatter "played a major role in shifting the world focus to Africa."
The alleged bribery took place in 2004, as the FIFA executive committee considered bids from Morocco, South Africa and Egypt to host the 2010 World Cup.
Blazer and another FIFA official from the Caribbean Football Union (CFU) first considered a 1-million-dollar bribe from Morocco, only to be outbid by South Africa's 10-million-dollar offer, US prosecutors say. The offer came from other FIFA officials and South Africa's government and bid committee.
Former top FIFA executives Jack Warner of Trinidad and Tobago and Nicolas Leoz of Paraguay were both on the Interpol list, which alerts member countries about arrest warrants. The other four are Argentines Alejandro Burzaco, and Hugo and Mariano Jinkis and Brazilian broadcast executive Jose Margulies, also known as Jose Lazaro.
The six are wanted on US charges of racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering conspiracies starting as early as 1991.
Warner faces US bribery charges, and the sports executives are wanted for having "systematically paid and agreed to pay well over 150 million dollars in bribes and kickbacks to obtain lucrative media and marketing rights to international soccer tournaments," US justice officials said.
Chuck Blazer's court transcript