Geneva, July 13
FIFA President Sepp Blatter defended his role in a World Cup kickbacks scandal on Thursday, after his former boss Joao Havelange was formally identified for taking millions of dollars in payments from marketing deals.
FIFA published a Swiss prosecutor’s report on Wednesday confirming that Havelange accepted kickbacks in the 1990s during Blatter’s 17-year stint serving him as FIFA’s top administrator.
Asked if he knew Havelange took kickbacks from disgraced marketing agency ISL, Blatter said "commission" payments were legal then in Switzerland. "I can’t have known about an offense that wasn’t even one," Blatter said in a question-and-answer sequence conducted by FIFA and published on its website. "Back then, such payments could even be deducted from tax as a business expense. Today, that would be punishable under law.
"You can’t judge the past on the basis of today’s standards," Blatter said.
Blatter acknowledged he was the senior FIFA figure identified in the dossier as "P1," who "would also have known" that a one million Swiss francs payment from ISL to Havelange was mistakenly transferred into a FIFA account.
Questions to Blatter failed to address his role in FIFA’s attempts to shut down a criminal probe into possible embezzlement by Havelange and long-time FIFA executive committee member Ricardo Teixeira.
The report revealed that, in 2010, FIFA paid 2.5 million Swiss francs (then $2.77 million) compensation to settle the ISL case only after insisting that proceedings against the two Brazilian officials were dropped.
Teixeira, the former son-in-law of Havelange, received at least 12.74 million Swiss francs (now $13 million) from ISL between 1992-97. Payments "attributed" to accounts connected to the pair totaled almost 22 million Swiss francs from 1992-2000, Swiss prosecutor Thomas Hildbrand wrote.
Blatter also ensured that FIFA spent 18 months in a legal battle to withhold the identities of Havelange and Teixeira as part of the settlement deal.
FIFA opted out of that fight last December, leaving the two men to appeal to Switzerland’s supreme court to deny media organizations access to Hildbrand’s report. The court dismissed the appeal on Wednesday, prompting FIFA to publish the document which detailed how money was siphoned from football’s world governing body.
Teixeira quit this year as head of Brazil’s football federation and the 2014 World Cup organizing committee. He also gave up his FIFA executive committee seat after 18 years, citing unspecified health and personal reasons.
Havelange, who gave up his 48-year membership of the International Olympic Committee last year to avoid suspension over his involvement with ISL, remains as FIFA’s honorary president.
Blatter, who became president in 1998, said he was powerless to remove his mentor, who is now 96. The decision rested with FIFA’s 209 member nations.
"I don’t have the power to call him to account," Blatter said. "The Congress named him as honorary president. Only the Congress can decide his future."
Blatter is also an IOC member and could yet face an ethics investigation launched by the Olympic body.
IOC President Jacques Rogge said Thursday of the ISL dossier that "definitely we will read it at the level of the IOC."
"We expect an action taken by FIFA itself," Rogge told reporters in a conference call. "We would expect FIFA to have an opinion on that, too, and we’ll wait for that opinion, of course."