‘We didn’t pay any bribe’

CAPE TOWN. — South Africa’s sports minister yesterday denied that bribes were paid to win the right to host the 2010 World Cup, as FIFA seeks to claw back money from officials facing graft charges in the United States.

Football’s world governing body this week issued a wide-ranging acknowledgement of what it called “brazen corruption” in a demand for “victim restitution” made to US authorities.

The claim to the US Attorney’s office in New York said a $10 million bribe was paid from South Africa to get votes for the country’s World Cup bid — but FIFA backed away from directly accusing South Africa of bribery.

And South Africa’s Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula has now demanded that FIFA retract its allegations that South African football officials were part of a massive web of alleged bribery at the world football body.

He has also written to Justice Minister Michael Masutha to force FIFA’s “capricious lawyers” to stop “undermining South Africa’s sovereignty”.

This was after FIFA’s announcement on Monday that it had immediately banned three South African football officials — Leslie Sedibe, Steve Goddard and Adeel Carelse — from all national and international football-related activities over allegations of match fixing ahead of the 2010 Soccer World Cup.

FIFA also said it was filing a claim in the US to get back money it believes was involved in votes for bribes, saying the world body had been violated and its image damaged.

“South Africa did not pay a bribe nor did it conspire to illegally obtain the rights to host (the) 2010 FIFA World Cup,” Mbalula told reporters in Cape Town as he defended the country’s record over the tournament.

A payment of $10 million was made through FIFA into an account controlled by Jack Warner, a disgraced former FIFA vice president from the Caribbean accused by US authorities for accepting bribes.

US investigators believe the money was a bribe to secure South Africa’s selection as host of the 2010 competition.

South African government and national football officials have repeatedly denied accusations that they paid the money to secure the right to host the first such tournament on the continent.

Authorities insist the $10 million payment was an honest donation to support football among the “African Diaspora” in the Caribbean.

“The matter was above board and was approved by FIFA,” Mbalula said.

“It is now ludicrous and insane for anyone to seek to cast an aspersion on our country by suggesting that we were part of syndicate to defraud.”

“South Africa considers it as an insult to reduce one of its hallmark programmes that recognise the struggles and achievements of African people around the world to a mere caricature, an incubator for bribery,” he added.

Mbalula accused FIFA of going back on its word when it promised to give him a copy of its report into its investigation into bribery and match fixing, saying the first he heard of the allegations against the three South Africans was in FIFA’s statement earlier this week.

He said he had asked FIFA several times to speed up its investigation into the claims because it was reducing South Africa to a caricature.

He was astounded that FIFA had changed the focus from it being the subject of an investigation into bribery allegations around the 2010 World Cup hosted in South Africa, into “miraculously” becoming the victim of a crime. — AFP.

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