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Blatter moves to silence critics

Sepp Blatter has told his general-secretary to put or shut up

(Keystone)

Struggling to retain his grasp of FIFA, the controlling body of world football, Switzerland's Sepp Blatter has moved to silence his latest critic.

Blatter, the president of FIFA, told the organisation's general-secretary, fellow Swiss Michel Zen-Ruffinen, to provide proof of allegations about mismanagement and impropriety, including voter fraud and theft of documents.

Zen-Ruffinen, second-in-command at FIFA, made the allegations during a series of weekend interviews. Blatter has given his general-secretary one day to present him with proof of any wrongdoing, or to put his accusations in writing.

"What has happened here at FIFA in the last few days is intolerable," Blatter said on Monday, after he met Zen-Ruffinen at FIFA's Zurich headquarters. "I don't want him to resign but I do want him to do his job."

The general-secretary's criticism has added to Blatter's troubles as he fights for reelection to another four-year term as president May 29.

Financial questions

UEFA president Lennart Johansson, a bitter rival, wrote to the European body's 51 member associations last week, urging them to vote for Issa Hayatou, Blatter's challenger and the head of the African football confederation.

Hayatou may surprisingly have trouble garnering support from his own continent though. Twenty-three presidents of various African associations agreed on Monday to vote for Blatter in the upcoming election.

Blatter has been president of the world soccer body since 1998. He has been accused by his critics of trying to cover up FIFA's financial losses after the SFr496 million ($300 million) collapse of ISL/ISMM, the company that held the marketing rights for the 2002 and 2006 World Cups.

Johansson said there was serious overspending in 2000, perhaps to the tune of SFr900 million ($545 million). But the exact state of FIFA finances remains somewhat of a mystery.

Blatter was forced by FIFA's executive committee, of which the Swede Johansson is a member, to accept an audit last month. He suspended the investigation two weeks ago, citing a "breach of confidentiality" by an unnamed member.

Blatter fires back

Blatter began to answer the criticism on Monday. "We came out of ISL's disappearance with a few scratches," said the president, "and we haven't lost any money following the collapse of the Kirch media group."

Kirch owned the television rights to the next two World Cups, in Japan, Korea and Germany.

"We will be spending more than our income this year though," admitted Blatter. "But for the period between 1999 and 2002, we will not be making a loss."

Old accusations have also resurfaced that Blatter's Arab supporters paid out bribes on the eve of the election to help him defeat Johansson.

Management style

In an interview with Sunday's SonntagsZeitung newspaper, Zen-Ruffinen added fuel to the fire, saying that at the 1998 elections, Haiti's representative was prevented from traveling to Paris for the vote. Another man claiming to be a Haitian delegate took his place.

It subsequently turned out he was a Trinidadian national and the brother-in-law of the head of CONACAF, the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football.

In another interview with the SonntagsBlick paper, Zen-Ruffinen said he also had problems with Blatter's management. He said rumors were circulating that the president ordered the suspension of the audit investigation because it was uncovering evidence damaging to him.

Zen-Ruffinen and FIFA's finance director were unable to testify because of the suspension. The findings of the audit committee, should it resume its work, could determine the outcome of the election, according to the general-secretary.

swissinfo with agencies


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