Bolstered by his re-election as soccer association FIFA president, Sepp Blatter was considerably more confident Saturday in his post-election victory press conference than he was after Swiss police raided the organization’s favorite hotel in Zurich on Wednesday. Blatter dismissed suggestions that U.S. Justice Department investigators could come knocking on his door. “Arrested for what? Next question,” he said.
He also had harsh words for U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch who said FIFA and marketing officials — 14 indicted and four who have pleaded guilty — had “corrupted the business of worldwide soccer to serve their interests and to enrich themselves.”
“I was shocked by what she said,” Blatter told French-language broadcaster RTS on Saturday, according to the Associated Press. He suggested Lynch’s Department of Justice went too far on FIFA’s home turf, but some observers thought the strategy of waiting until the officials were gathered in one place was brilliant. Otherwise the arrests would have to be attempted across numerous jurisdictions with less chance of success.
Blatter insisted he had nothing to fear from the investigation involving the alleged $150 million bribe scheme linked to broadcast rights for tournaments in North and South America.
To questions about whether he was the “high-ranking FIFA official” mentioned in the indictment who wired $10 million to corrupt North American officials? “Definitely that is not me,” Blatter said. “I have no $10 million.” The money allegedly came from a FIFA account in exchange for voting for South Africa as the 2010 World Cup host.
Richard Weber, head of the Internal Revenue Service unit in charge of criminal investigations, said Friday, “I’m fairly confident that we will have another round of indictments,” according to the New York Times. Weber declined to identify the remaining targets or say whether Blatter was among them, emphasizing only that “we strongly believe there are other people and entities involved in criminal acts.”
The seven officials detained are resisting extradition and face 20 years in prison. Any questioning and plea bargaining could take American authorities deeper into the heart of FIFA. Those detained include FIFA vice president Jeffrey Webb, a Cayman Islands banker with homes in Georgia. Webb was a member of FIFA’s audit panel more than a decade ago when FIFA was in severe financial crisis.
UEFA President Michel Platini, who urged Blatter to resign, has called his member federations to discuss tactics in Berlin ahead of the Champions League final next Saturday. “There should be some kind of reaction,” said Dutch federation president Michael van Praag, who was a candidate against Blatter until switching support to Jordan’s Prince Ali bin al-Hussein.
FIFA’s executive committee also set in motion plans for European countries to bid for the 2026 World Cup, despite previous comments by Blatter that it would be too soon after Russia. The United States is a probable bidder for 2026, and despite the obvious conflicts, Blatter said “This will have no impact” on the chances of an American bid winning.
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