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FIFA widens probe into World Cup bids corruption

Updated: 2010-10-26 10:57
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ZURICH - FIFA widened its probe into alleged World Cup bidding corruption on Monday after a former leading administrator reportedly claimed two candidates have colluded to trade votes.

FIFA said it has "immediately requested to receive all ... potential evidence," from Britain's Sunday Times newspaper regarding its reporting of comments from Michel Zen-Ruffinen, who was general secretary of football's world governing body for four years until 2002.

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Zen-Ruffinen was secretly filmed saying Spain-Portugal and Qatar have struck a deal giving each seven votes from the 24-man FIFA executive committee which is choosing World Cup hosts in December. Spain-Portugal want to host in 2018 and Qatar is a 2022 candidate. Both need 13 votes to guarantee victory under existing rules.

"So they start with seven (votes) which ... was not expected by the other candidates. And this is not just a rumor, that's fact," Zen-Ruffinen was quoted as saying to undercover reporters who posed as lobbyists claiming to work on behalf of one bidder.

Several members of FIFA's ruling executive declined to comment on the allegations at FIFA headquarters, at the start of a week of scheduled committee meetings.

FIFA president Sepp Blatter will chair a two-day executive meeting starting Thursday which is due to finalize voting rules for the secret World Cup ballot on Dec 2 in Zurich.

The 2018 contest is between England, Russia and the joint bids of Belgium-Holland and Spain-Portugal.

The 2022 race involves the United States, Australia, Japan, South Korea and Qatar.

In a statement Monday, FIFA said it will refer Zen-Ruffinen's interview to its ethics committee which last week officially launched an investigation into alleged illegal collusion between bidders, which it did not name. Officials from the Spain-Portugal and Qatar bids have not confirmed they are being investigated, while Portuguese federation president Gilberto Madail dismissed the allegations last week.

"FIFA has immediately requested to receive all the documents and potential evidence that the newspaper has in relation to this matter, and will in any case analyze the material available," FIFA said in a statement.

"FIFA and the ethics committee are committed to have zero tolerance for any breach of the Code of Ethics and the Bid Registration. FIFA and the ethics committee are determined to protect the integrity of the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bidding process."

The ethics panel also is investigating two current and four former members of FIFA's ruling executive following Sunday Times allegations that the bidding process was shrouded by corruption.

Amos Adamu of Nigeria and Reynald Temarii from Tahiti were filmed seeming to offer their votes in exchange for funding for football projects. They were provisionally suspended from all football duty for 30 days after appearing last Wednesday before FIFA's ethics court which used videos and transcripts provided by the newspaper.

The ethics panel is scheduled to deliver verdicts on its separate investigations - into officials and bidders - at a meeting in mid-November, less than three weeks before polling day.

Zen-Ruffinen, who left FIFA after alleging financial mismanagement under Blatter's leadership, also was recorded suggesting FIFA voters could be bribed with offers of money or women.

The Swiss lawyer later told the newspaper he exaggerated his claims to help gain a consultancy fee and had only offered to assist reporters contacting FIFA officials.

Zen-Ruffinen did not respond to calls seeking comment on Monday. In an interview with Swiss daily Le Matin published Monday, he said he planned to sue the British undercover reporters and possibly their newspaper, claiming they breached confidentiality and filmed him without permission.

He also said that there most probably was corruption at FIFA and called for football's governing body to appoint an external investigator.

FIFA's ethics panel has also provisionally suspended four former executive committee members: Tunisian lawyer Slim Aloulou, Amadou Diakite of Mali, Botswana's Ismail Bhamjee and Ahongalu Fusimalohi from Tonga.

Allegations of corruption at FIFA have prompted the Swiss government to review the favorable legal status sports bodies enjoy as nonprofit organizations based in the country.

Christoph Lauener, a spokesman for the federal sports ministry, told The Associated Press on Monday it would examine if laws should be revised "given the increasing commercialization of sport."

Lauener acknowledged that Switzerland can't compel sports federations to cooperate. But he noted that "now that the time has come to expose everything that's happened, it's in the interest of the federations to show what kind of safety measures they have. We want everything out on the table and then we'll see further."