FIFA says legal grounds do not exist for stripping Russia and Qatar of right to stage World Cup
Jack Warner is one of 14 people accused of corruption related to soccer's international governing body
Trinidad politician calls on countryman and former FIFA executive Warner to travel to the United States for trial
There are no legal grounds for FIFA to take the 2018 World Cup from Russian or the 2022 event from Qatar, soccer’s world governing body said Monday.
FIFA’s statement followed comments made to a Swiss newspaper by Domenico Scala, chief of its Compliance Committee.
Scala had said that Russia and Qatar could lose the right to host the World Cup events if evidence is presented showing that bribes bought the votes that won them the competition to host the world’s biggest single-sport event.
“Should evidence be present that the awarding to Qatar and Russia only came about with bought votes, then the awarding could be void,” Scala told the newspaper.
But on Monday, FIFA issued a statement calling that claim into question.
“Russia and Qatar were awarded the 2018 and 2022 FIFA World Cups by democratic vote of the Executive Committee. Based on expert opinions and available facts, FIFA has no legal grounds to take away the hosting of the FIFA World Cup from Russia and Qatar.”
“We will not speculate on possible scenarios and therefore have no further comments for the time being,” the statement said.
Whispers of foul play that started after December 1, when FIFA chose Russia and Qatar to host soccer’s most prominent global competition, have been bandied about more openly now that FIFA is embroiled in a massive scandal, which involves allegations that bribery helped determine the hosts of earlier World Cups. The United States has indicted 14 people, including nine top FIFA officials, on corruption charges.
FIFA had portrayed the ongoing investigation as a progressive step for the world soccer body. Russia, the world’s largest country, and Qatar, a small Middle Eastern nation, would be new frontiers for the world’s favorite tournament.
“If there is a problem in the bidding process … then the problem is more with FIFA than with Russia and with Qatar,” Guido Tognoni, a former FIFA adviser, told CNNI.
When asked whether his gut told him bribery was part of the bidding process, he said: “It would not be a surprise.”
The CEO of Russia World Cup 2018 told CNN’s Matthew Chance last week that Russia plans to continue to prepare to organize the event. Alexey Sorokin said that Russia’s bid was transparent.
“It was clean,” he said. “It didn’t transgress any FIFA practices, any practices applicable to the bidding process. What else can we say?”
And Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy released a statement last week, saying, “The recent events at FIFA will not impact on our preparations for the 2022 FIFA World Cup.”
American Chuck Blazer, a former FIFA executive committee member and key member of the U.S. investigation into the governing body, admitted that he and other high-ranking officials took bribes ahead of the 1998 and 2010 World Cups, according to court records.
Trinidad’s justice and legal affairs minister is calling on Jack Warner, the lone indicted FIFA official from his country, to go to New York to face trial in the scandal that’s struck the soccer world like a dirty slide tackle.
“Trinidad and Tobago is not Jack Warner,” Minister Prakash Ramadhar of the Caribbean nation said Sunday. “It really is about restoring a sense of decency to the politics of Trinidad and Tobago. And we made a call to Mr. Warner to save us all from the infamy that he has brought upon us to go hastily to America and have his trial. And if he has truth to bring, let it be so, so that we can put this behind us and learn from the errors of the past, and move on to ensure we do not repeat them in the future.”
Warner is the former vice president of soccer’s international governing body. He and his 13 fellow defendants have been charged by the U.S. Justice Department with a total of 47 counts of racketeering, wire fraud, money laundering, bribery and other offenses. Interpol notified member nations on Wednesday that arrest warrants have been issued for Warner and five of the other indicted officials.
Ramadhar, a long-time political adversary of Warner’s in Trinidad and Tobago, said Warner is inviting ridicule of their homeland and questioned why Warner won’t go directly to New York to face charges.
“I am a lawyer and I know the innocent rush to an early trial,” Ramadhar said.
Since U.S. prosecutors handed down the indictment on May 26, Warner has threatened to expose the inner workings of FIFA and its president, Sepp Blatter, who was recently re-elected to a fifth term but just days later announced he would step down.
On Wednesday, Warner released a paid political TV ad, titled “Jack Warner: The Gloves are Off,” in which he said he had prepared a comprehensive series of documents on FIFA’s transactions, including checks and corroborated statements.
In the ad, aired in Trinidad and Tobago, Warner said he would “no longer keep secrets for those persons who now seek actively to destroy this country’s hard-won international image.”
He also said, “I reasonably and surely fear for my life.” He did not elaborate.
Warner, head of Trinidad and Tobago’s Independent Liberal Party, has denied all the charges against him and said in a statement that he had not been interviewed by authorities and “the actions of FIFA no longer concern me.”
The indictment accuses Warner of taking a $10 million bribe to vote for South Africa to host the 2010 World Cup, saying South Africa was willing to pay $10 million to the Caribbean Football Union “to support the African diaspora” in exchange for Warner’s and two other conspirators’ votes to put the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, instead of Morocco. The South African bid committee has denied any impropriety in the payment.
The Sunday Times of London reported that secret tapes exposing the rigged voting process for the 2010 Cup were suppressed by FIFA and Blatter, until their release last week.
The BBC reported Sunday that documents show three wire transfers totaling $10 million from FIFA to accounts of the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football, which were controlled by Warner, from the winter of 2008. Then, the documents suggest, Warner used that money for cash withdrawals, personal loans, and to launder money, the BBC reported.
There was no immediate response from Warner to those reports in British media.
In all, prosecutors allege FIFA officials took more than $150 million in bribes to provide “lucrative media and marketing rights” to soccer tournaments.
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CNN’s Robyn Curnow and Harry Reekie reported on this story from Trinidad. James Masters, Laura Smith-Spark and Tim Hume reported from London, Stephanie Halasz translated a Swiss publication from Austria, Steve Almasy reported and Mark Morgenstein wrote in Atlanta.