FIFA, Sepp Blatter, and Bribes

“Sepp Blatter really never had a real job. Like a rock star. And he’ll never have a real job again.”

Steve Amoia recently had the opportunity to interview respected investigative journalist and film maker, Mr. Andrew Jennings, whose recent book, “Foul! The Secret World of FIFA: Bribes, Vote Rigging and Ticket Scandals” painted FIFA in a hue that many at the world governing body would have rather not seen. Mr. Jennings is one of the few journalists who have written extensively about the inner workings at FIFA.

What follows is Part 2 of the interview where Andrew discusses FIFA’s relationship with football and Sepp Blatter’s role in governing the beautiful game. Parts 1, 3 and 4, as well as the audio of the interview, can be found here.

Let’s discuss your most recent book on FIFA. I read the first chapter of “Foul!” via the link on your web site. You spent seven years on this highly acclaimed work, and FIFA President, Joseph “Sepp” Blatter attempted to place a global ban on your book in a Swiss court. Let’s say that a person knew very little about FIFA. Could you provide us with a scouting report or dossier about one of the most powerful organizations in international sports?

It’s free on the web site and I hope you rushed to buy it!

There’s always two stories at these big international sport organizations like the IOC and FIFA. There is the story about themselves, how wonderful they are, how they care about the athletes, and then you find out about the kickbacks, find out about the immoral activities, if I could toss in, there was the scandal in America that broke in 1988 between the IOC, and the way they shook down the good old boys in Utah, I wrote books, I testified in front of Senator John McCain, the Senate Commerce Committee, in 1999, because I was the only one who could really explain what had gone wrong.

The problem with the big federations is, you know, we all know about if you are not accountable to somebody, your partner in life, the police or priests, whatever it is in life, you should know that if you do something wrong, as your mother told you, you’ll get found out.

But what you have with FIFA and the IOC is that you have a small group of reporters desperate not to alienate them because they need access to write stories about the head of the IOC or Sepp Blatter of FIFA. Actually, you don’t want them to talk to you because they are not going to tell you the truth.

I discovered with FIFA how deep the corruption was, I got into it in late 2000, 2001. Perhaps a background story might be interesting to listeners. I spent a dozen years investigating the IOC. I have a criminal record because Juan Antonio Samaranch, the IOC President, is a Fascist, I mean, like you know, Hitler, a guy who puts his right arm out in front and marches in jack boots, he was a Franco-Fascist in Spain in 1939 up until the time Franco died in 1975. I revealed his background, I got photographs of him wearing his Fascist uniform, and giving that horrid right hand salute as late as 1974, and he went to court in Lausanne, Switzerland, where the IOC is located, said it was all untrue, and they said how could this wonderful man, all that is moral in sport, turn bad?

So Andrew Jennings gets five days suspended jail sentence. You could be the best journalist in the world, but you know when they put in jail, you are getting it right.

As part of investigating corruption in America, you got to know where the money came from. Most of the money for the Olympics and the World Cup came from a company based in Switzerland called ISL: International Sport and Leisure. Most of us, my German friends and other researchers, knew that ISL paid bribes to FIFA, international track and field, and to the IOC to get fantastic contracts.

Imagine having the exclusive marketing contract for the soccer World Cup? Think how much money you are going to make 25% percent on? Now it is slowly triggering a change. There may be more.

I got a call from a contact and he said Andrew, ISL is going bankrupt. I said are you sure? He said they’ve screwed up and going bankrupt. Now when a company goes bankrupt, a liquidator comes from one of the big accounting firms who have no politics, no preferences, and wants to liquidate to pay off creditors. And I started a relationship with the liquidator.

If you look at my web site, some of it has already arrived in court. They got named in a Swiss court, not FIFA, but 70 million dollars in pounds, double that in dollars these days. Past bribes and it goes on and on and Sepp Blatter is in the crosshairs of the investigators. It was not triggered until seven years ago because there was not evidence of bribes.

What journalists should know and too many don’t realize this, is look at any organization that you think is corrupt, whether it’s a sports or political organization, whatever, if you think they are corrupt, it is the guys at the top who’ll be corrupt. The bulk of the employees at FIFA are humble, work for honest wages, but work for a guy like Blatter who will fire at will… You have to get them to trust you… Not many trust journalists but I am a different type.

There’s the documents. There are all sorts of ways. In forty years in this business, I’ve never let a source down. No source has ever been detected… I know all the tricks of the trade to disguise where I get stuff from. Young journalists or anyone who wants to investigate corruption, know that there are good people with mortgages, bills to pay, if you get them to say “This isn’t right, help me,” they’ll help you.

Sepp Blatter has been President of FIFA since 1998. What was his background in business and/or sports marketing, along with his ascent to power at FIFA?

Sepp Blatter really never had a real job. Like a rock star. And he’ll never have a real job again. Blatter studied Business Administration in Lausanne which is in South Switzerland. He did get a real job for about a year with the Swiss Tourist Board. Then he got a job with a Swiss watch firm as a PR man. In 1974, just after the Winter Olympic Games, he was recruited by FIFA. He has never worked anywhere else. He was a technical man, then was in marketing, then became General Secretary and worked with Joao Havelange from Brasil, who he deposed in 1998, he became President in a rigged election. I’ve got the documents how they rigged the election, how the bribes were paid, that’s the practice at FIFA. They’re dirty. The football, the football you like to watch is clean most of the time. They’re dirty.

The Sunday Times, where you once worked, said that you were shown the red card by FIFA, and barred from their press conferences. Could you tell us about the last time you posed a question to President Blatter in 2004 during the African Cup of Nations, and what have been other high level reactions to your book?

The only time I get to ask Sepp Blatter questions is by looking for him on the street. He got more and more irritated as I was writing the book. I did articles for the London newspapers. I had documents and questions. I talked about the secret $200,000 bonus he got one year. He banned me, he put it on the FIFA web site, it’s in the book, that they were going to sue me for writing fiction. That’s funny because I had a sworn statement from the previous director of finance. It’s true. So, since April 2005, I am the only reporter in the world who isn’t allowed to get near Sepp Blatter to ask a simple question.

Because I’ve got the documents, and he doesn’t want other journalists to say ‘Mr. Blatter, why are you and your girlfriends flying on FIFA’s tab?’ It is very embarrassing. So, in 2004, I ended up going to the African Cup of Nations, it was interesting, I managed to get the neck plastic, the accreditation, for where his press conference was staged. He was going on and on. So I asked him about a million francs, that would be about $600,000, bribe in FIFA’s bank account that should have gone to Joao Havelange, and he just froze. He realized what I was getting to. Then I asked about President Havelange. Blatter replied, ‘Well, well, we are not here to talk about this. We are here to talk about African football.’ He wouldn’t answer the question which is very important legally for a journalist. If you make an allegation, you must give them the right to respond…

BBC’s Panoroma, BBC’s blue chip program, can you imagine the best of CBS’s 60 Minutes running for 30 or 40 minutes, very big investigations, beautifully filmed, and we tried to get an interview with Blatter, just before the last World Cup, to ask him about corruption, and the bribes, and he wouldn’t be interviewed.

Now, if you go up to someone on a public highway, if you behave properly, don’t touch them, you can approach them to ask things. It’s a skill I’ve developed over the years. So I had a much-traveled crew and waited for Blatter outside of FIFA House in Zurich, as they say in English slang, like a ferret out of a drain pipe. I asked fantastic questions about the bribes. And he went silent. His faced turned red and he said ‘You know. You’re a journalist. You know who got them.’ I said no, I’m just a reporter. You tell me. Was President Havelange one of them? That gave us more legal ground, but it was very funny to watch…

In November 2005, Swiss fraud detectives raided FIFA House in Zurich and obtained documents from the offices of President Blatter, along with his General Secretary, Urs Linsi. As part of your research for “Foul!” you gained access to FIFA’s document archives. Could you explain this incident in 2005, along with your own findings?

It’s a running saga. It’s not like a war or however you’d like to tell it. It is going on every single day. Since 2001, evidence of bribes were found, I reported in 2002 that it went to an Investigative Magistrate, similar to a District Attorney in America, and the investigation started in a little Swiss canton, think of it like a State, there is a picture of Blatter on my web site about it, none of us knew about this, it was a very secretive investigation, and suddenly we heard that the investigation was over, we were waiting for a trial date, and the Magistrate, Thomas Hildbrand whom I am certain is honest, determined, loyal, I thought, he was going after the gangsters, he is going to raid FIFA House, but the surprising thing is that you never read about this in the newspapers. Too much is based upon press releases. FIFA had never made a statement that a fraud squad came to the door, had a warrant to search the premises, ‘we are looking for particular bank records and documents.’ And that happened, they didn’t want to admit to it, and I tried to publish it. It was absolute fact, and that investigation is still going on.

And a second investigation is really interesting because that is the one that could put Herr Blatter in jail. Because the allegation that the Swiss Magistrate is looking into is the way that the liquidator of the bankrupt marketing company demanded that certain FIFA executives repay the bribes that they pocketed in order to give the contracts. Yes, they were repaid subsequently, but not by the victims, but the money came out of FIFA.

Now that is of course a fraudulent use of FIFA funds. Can’t say it happened yet but that is being investigated. Hildbrand has told me about it himself, I have a press release he put out, which was never published due to influence of deep pockets, but the fact of life is as we talk now, skilled fraud detectives in Switzerland are investigating the allegation and are doing it for three years now.

Which is coming up on the third anniversary of that raid with the allegation that FIFA’s money was used to repay the bribes. Now, if they indict Blatter, they would be cutting the head off of the serpent. So it would be a staggering chance. Hildbrand didn’t get a very good result in court but he got a result. And we have our fingers crossed.

It’s awful. In America, the soccer Federation won’t do anything to clean up corruption in FIFA. The mice won’t squeak. You guys are out of CONCACAF. Chuck Blazer and Jack Warner in Trinidad, and Blazer, some might not know, was accused by a judge of lying, he lied to a court in Manhattan, in FIFA’s case, over MasterCard activity, very critical activities.

We know that Jack Warner is the biggest ticket racketeer in the world. Where are the brave people of American football (soccer) who say we want nothing to do with these scum?

Steve Amoia is the author and editor of the World Football Commentaries blog. He has written for AC Cugini Scuola Calcio, Keeper Skool, and Soccerlens. Images courtesy of Andrew Jennings.

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