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FIFA 'bribe' officials escape punishment

April 30, 2013 -- Updated 1254 GMT (2054 HKT)
Sepp Blatter succeeded Joao Havelange (right) as president of football's governing body FIFA in 1998.
Sepp Blatter succeeded Joao Havelange (right) as president of football's governing body FIFA in 1998.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • FIFA president Sepp Blatter is cleared of misconduct by internal investigation into bribery
  • Predecessor Joao Havelange resigns as honorary president of soccer's ruling body
  • Havelange took payments from FIFA's former marketing partner ISL between 1992 and 2000
  • FIFA's Ethics Committee says no further action is planned

(CNN) -- FIFA president Sepp Blatter has been cleared of any misconduct by an internal investigation into the bribery scandal that threatened to drag football's world governing body into terminal crisis.

But his predecessor, Brazilian Joao Havelange, has now resigned as FIFA's honorary president for his part in the scandal.

Havelange and former executive committee members Ricardo Teixeira and Dr. Nicolas Leoz were all found to have accepted illegal payments from FIFA's former marketing partner International Sports and Leisure (ISL).

The payments were made between 1992 and May 2000 -- ISL went bankrupt the following year.

FIFA's Ethics Committee -- set up by Blatter after the corruption scandal was investigated by the Swiss authorities last year -- said it would not take any further action, adding the case was now closed.

The findings of the committee have been published in detail, following Blatter's re-election promise in 2011 to make FIFA's workings more transparent.

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Blatter, who took over the presidency of FIFA from Havelange in 1998, welcomed the report, saying in a statement: "I have taken note of the report from the chairman of the FIFA Ethics Committee, Hans-Joachim Eckert, regarding the examination of the ISL case.

"I note in particular that, in his conclusions, chairman Eckert states that 'the ISL case is concluded for the Ethics Committee' and that 'no further proceedings related to the ISL matter are warranted against any other football official.'

"I also note with satisfaction that this report confirms that 'President Blatter's conduct could not be classified in any way as misconduct with regard to any ethics rules.'

"I have no doubt that FIFA, thanks to the governance reform process that I proposed, now has the mechanisms and means to ensure that such an issue -- which has caused untold damage to the reputation of our institution -- does not happen again."

Havelange, who turns 97 next month, was one of the most recognizable figures in sports administration, serving as FIFA president for 24 years from 1974 and doing much to make football a truly global game.

Prior to FIFA, he served as president of the Brazilian Sports Confederation from 1958 to 1973 and was also on the International Olympic Committee, until his resignation -- because of his links with the FIFA scandal -- in 2011.

A report by a Swiss court last year found that Havelange had received at least 1.5 million Swiss francs ($1.53 million) and Teixeira was paid at least CHF 12.4 million ($12.64 million) from ISL, who then owned the TV rights to the World Cup.

"The acceptance of bribe money by Havelange, Teixeira and Leoz was not punishable under Swiss criminal law at that time," explained Eckert in his report into the FIFA-ISL case.

"I agree with that determination. However, it is clear that Havelange and Teixeira, as football officials, should not have accepted any bribe money, and should have had to pay it back since the money was in connection with the exploitation of media rights.

A turbulent period for FIFA began in May 2010. Whilst most of the world's soccer fans were more concerned with Africa's first World Cup finals that June, FIFA was presented with official bid documents by Australia, England, Netherlands/Belgium, Japan, South Korea, Qatar, Russia, Spain/Portugal and the United States for the 2018 and 2022 tournaments. During the ceremony at its Swiss headquarters, FIFA announced dates for inspections of the bidding nations from July-September. A turbulent period for FIFA began in May 2010. Whilst most of the world's soccer fans were more concerned with Africa's first World Cup finals that June, FIFA was presented with official bid documents by Australia, England, Netherlands/Belgium, Japan, South Korea, Qatar, Russia, Spain/Portugal and the United States for the 2018 and 2022 tournaments. During the ceremony at its Swiss headquarters, FIFA announced dates for inspections of the bidding nations from July-September.
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"This does not change anything with regard to the morally and ethically reproachable conduct of both persons.

"I note that Mr. Havelange resigned from his position as Honorary President effective from April 18 2013 and that Dr. Nicolas Leoz resigned from his positions as a FIFA Executive Committee member, as a FIFA standing committee member and as CONMEBOL (the governing body for South American football) President effective from April 24 2013. Hence, any further steps or suggestions are superfluous.

"No further proceedings related to the ISL matter are warranted against any other football official."

Teixeira -- Havelange's former son-in-law -- had already stood down from FIFA last year, shortly after resigning as president of the Brazilian Football Confederation.

Blatter claimed in 2012 that he did know about alleged bribe payments made to former FIFA executives, but insisted he didn't think they were illegal. At that time Blatter was working as FIFA's secretary general.

The report by FIFA's Ethics Committee again cleared the 77-year-old of any direct culpability but still raised question marks over his behavior.

"It must be questioned, however, whether President Blatter knew or should have known over the years before the bankruptcy of ISL that ISL had made payments (bribes) to other FIFA officials," the report stated.

"President Blatter stated during his interview with Mr Garcia that he 'couldn't understand that somebody is sending money to FIFA for another person,' but at that time he did not suspect the payment was a commission (bribe).

"President Blatter's conduct could not be classified in any way as misconduct with regard to any ethics rules. The conduct of President Blatter may have been clumsy."

The report from the Ethics Committee, which was established on guidance from the Swiss court and is led by U.S. attorney Michael Garcia, effectively draws a line under the scandal that first emerged at the end of 2010.

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