ZURICH (Reuters) - FIFA denied on Tuesday that President Sepp Blatter’s right hand man Jerome Valcke was involved in $10 million (7 million pounds) bank transactions under investigation by U.S authorities despite the publication of a letter to Valcke outlining the payment.
Valcke, who has been secretary general since 2007 and is seen as one of the most powerful men in world sport, had no role in the payments, which were authorised by the chairman of FIFA’s Finance Committee, FIFA said in a statement.
The chairman of the committee at the time of the payments was Argentina’s Julio Grondona, who died last year.
“Neither the Secretary General Jerome Valcke nor any other member of FIFA’s senior management were involved in the initiation, approval and implementation of the above project,” FIFA said.
A person familiar with the matter said on Monday that U.S. prosecutors believe Valcke made the $10 million bank transactions which are central to a U.S. bribery investigation against football’s governing body.
Valcke is described in an indictment filed in federal court in Brooklyn, New York, as an unidentified “high-ranking FIFA official” who in 2008 transferred the sum to another FIFA official, Jack Warner.
The New York Times said Valcke had written in an email to the newspaper that he neither had authorized the payment nor had the power to do so.
Frenchman Valcke was released as FIFA’s marketing director in 2006 following botched negotiations over a sponsorship deal, but returned eight months later as secretary general.
He was in trouble in 2011 after writing an email to Warner which said that Qatar “bought” the right to host the 2022 World Cup, and upset Brazilians by saying the country needed “a kick up the backside” over repeated delays in its preparations to stage the 2014 World Cup.
FIFA’s statement said that, in 2007, as part of the 2010 FIFA World Cup, the South African government approved a $10 million project to support the African diaspora in Caribbean countries.
FIFA was asked to process the project’s funding by withholding $10 million from the South African local organising committee’s (LOC) operational budget and using that to finance the programme.
The South African Football Association (SAFA) instructed FIFA that the legacy programme should be administered and implemented directly by the then President of CONCACAF, Jack Warner, “who should act as the fiduciary of the Diaspora Legacy Programme Fund of $10 million”.
It added: “FIFA did not incur any costs ... (and) both the LOC and SAFA adhered to the necessary formalities for the budgetary amendment.”
CONCACAF governs football in North and Central America and the Caribbean.
South Africa’s sports minister, Fikile Mbakule, has denied that his government paid $10 million to anyone as a bribe.
After the FIFA statement, Britain’s Press Association published on Twitter what it said was a copy of a 2008 letter sent by SAFA to FIFA, and addressed to Valcke, requesting a transfer of $10 million to the “diaspora legacy programme”.
However, FIFA replied in a further statement to Reuters:
“There is nothing new. The letter is consistent to our statement where we underlined that the FIFA Finance Committee made the final approval.
“In general, the FIFA Secretary General is the recipient of all letters and requests to the administration and acts in accordance with FIFA’s regulations.
“We would like to reiterate that neither the Secretary General Jérôme Valcke nor any other member of FIFA’s senior management were involved in the initiation, approval and implementation of the Diaspora project.”
Warner, a former FIFA vice president, is among 14 FIFA officials and corporate executives charged by the U.S. Department of Justice last Wednesday with running a criminal enterprise that involved more than $150 million in bribes.
Warner left jail in Trinidad and Tobago on Thursday after he was granted bail, according to local media.
The scandal at FIFA has prompted calls for a World Cup boycott. But on Tuesday, the president of the German Football Association, Wolfgang Niersbach, told Reuters he opposed this.
Writing by Brian Homewood; Editing by John O'Brien, John Stonestreet and Giles Elgood