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Fifa clears Blatter in bribery scandal

Blatter, pictured here before the hearing, has been under fire of late Keystone

Sepp Blatter, the Swiss head of Fifa, the world football governing body, has been cleared of any wrongdoing in an alleged bribery scandal by a Fifa ethics committee.

But Fifa on Sunday evening announced in Zurich that it had temporarily suspended two other top officials, Mohamed bin Hammam and Jack Warner, over the affair, saying they should face a full inquiry.

Bin Hammam, the head of Asian football, had said that he was withdrawing from Fifa’s presidential election, where he was the only candidate standing against Blatter, just hours before the hearing.

The Qatari and Warner, a Fifa vice president, were accused of bribing Caribbean voters during a presidential campaign visit. Both had denied the allegations.

Fifa cleared Blatter of having turned a blind eye to these alleged corruption attempts.

The Swiss is standing for a fourth term as head of football’s world governing body on Wednesday, a vote that has been confirmed as going ahead. The decisions should now clear the way for his unopposed re-election.

Bin Hammam and Warner will now face a full Fifa inquiry. If found guilty, they could be expelled from Fifa and banned from all football activity.

The ethics committee said there was sufficient evidence to further investigate allegations that bin Hammam and Warner offered $40,000 (SFr34,000) bribes to delegates at a Caribbean football association meeting on May 10-11 in Trinidad.

The payments were allegedly made to secure votes for bin Hammam in his campaign to unseat Blatter as the head of football’s governing body. The evidence was submitted to Fifa by American executive committee member Chuck Blazer.

“We are satisfied that there is a case to be answered,” Petrus Damaseb, deputy chairman of the ethics committee, said at a news conference in Zurich.

No evidence

Bin Hammam had asked the ethics panel to investigate Blatter on grounds that he knew of alleged bribe attempts and did nothing about it. But the committee said there was no evidence to take action against Blatter.

Blatter responded Sunday by saying he regrets “what has happened in the last few days and weeks”.

“Fifa’s image has suffered a great deal as a result, much to the disappointment of Fifa itself and all football fans,” the Swiss official said.

Earlier, Warner had cautioned that a “football tsunami” would hit Fifa in the next few days.

German football legend Franz Beckenbauer, who retires as a member of Fifa’s executive committee next week, earlier on Sunday described the bribery allegations as a “disaster for football”.

“I hope when June 1 comes and the election will be over, then all the discussion about corruption is finished and Fifa can go back to normal,” Beckenbauer told the BBC.

Accusations of bribery are nothing new in Fifa. In the run-up to the selection of the next two venues for the World Cup, the British Sunday Times newspaper made detailed allegations, which led to the suspension of some Fifa officials.
Earlier this month a British parliamentary inquiry heard further claims of vote buying. Fifa has ordered an investigation into these allegations.

The International Federation of Association Football was created in Paris in 1904 and moved into permanent headquarters in Zurich in 1932.

Swiss national Joseph “Sepp” Blatter joined Fifa in 1975, first as Technical Director and then as General Secretary. In 1998 he was voted in as the federation’s 8th president.

Blatter was re-elected as president in 2002 and 2007. The post is up for election in 2011.

Blatter’s election in 2002 was surrounded by rumours of bribery. The same year, General Secretary Michel Zen-Ruffinen was sacked after alleging financial mismanagement.

In 2006, British journalist Andrew Jennings published a book entitled: Foul! The Secret World of FIFA: Bribes, Vote Rigging and Ticket Scandals. The book was followed up by similar allegations in a BBC Panorama documentary.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR