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Mbalula denies payments for World Cup

Speaking at the conclusion of a transformation in sport event in Johannesburg, sports minister Fikile Mbalula said the government was not involved in alleged bribes to sway votes in the hosting of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. 

“No such amount [$10-million] was paid by the department or government to any individual,” he said on Thursday.

The allegations surfaced on Wednesday when seven Fifa officials were arrested in Switzerland in connection with bribes. The officials were gathered for the world football governing body’s elective conference.

The indictments were on behalf of US authorities, who said the same day that they were conducting a probe into corruption in Fifa worth $100-million. 

In the indictment, a section titled “The Criminal Schemes” set out how South Africa bought three crucial votes with a $10-million bribe. The country was up against Morocco for the right to host the 2010 World Cup. The end vote was 14 to 10 in favour of South Africa.

The indictment deals with two separate instances of alleged corruption involving South Africa. In the first one, Jack Warner (then Fifa vice-president from Trinidad and Tobago) is alleged to have sent a relative to Paris to “accept a briefcase containing bundles of US currency in $10 000 stacks in a hotel room from co-conspirator #15”. This is an unnamed South African bid official.

The second instance alleges that in the months before the May 2004 vote, Warner and “co-conspirator #1” flew to Morocco, where Warner allegedly accepted a $1-million offer to vote for that country. 

The indictment alleges that after the Moroccan bribe offer, Blazer learnt of a change of plan. “High-ranking officials of Fifa, the South African government, and the South African bid committee, including co-conspirator #16, were prepared to arrange for the government of South Africa to pay $10-million to the Caribbean Football Union (CFU) to ‘support the African diaspora’.”

The CFU is where Warner held sway. Blazer “understood the offer to be in exchange for the agreement” that he, Warner and an unnamed senior South American football official on the Fifa executive would vote for South Africa. Although the payment was to be to the CFU in name, Warner and his associates were the intended recipients. According to the indictment, “Warner indicated that he had accepted the offer and told [Blazer] that he would give a $1-million portion of the $10-million payment to [Blazer].” 

All three allegedly voted for South Africa. Afterwards, Blazer “periodically asked Warner” about the payment. Blazer then learnt that “the South Africans were unable to arrange for the payment to be made directly from government funds”.

‘Transparent nation’

Mbalula said that nobody had contacted the South African government prior to the arrests. “It does constitute an element of total disregard of you to speak about a country without relating with it with regards to the information you may have.”

He was, however, certain that there would be “nothing that can implicate our nation”. Following the World Cup, the financial records and books of the local organising committee had been audited by outside auditors, and the auditor-general, he said. These found no transfer of funds and the information was subsequently released to the public.

“We run a transparent nation.”

But he would not comment on the details contained in the indictments until the government had received a copy, he said. The international relations department had been asked to approach the US government to get a copy of the indictments. “Everything else is speculation,” he said.

Speaking at a post-Cabinet briefing on Thursday, minister in the presidency Jeff Radebe said the local organising committee was not too worried about the bribery allegations. A member of the committee, he said, “As far as we are concerned, there has never been any suggestion that anything untoward happened in South Africa.” 

The country had received a clean audit from accounting firm Ernst & Young. Any profit had been handed over to the South African Football Association, he said.

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Sipho Kings
Sipho Kings is the acting editor-in-chief of the Mail & Guardian
Stefaans Brummer
Stefaans is an old hand at investigations. A politics and journalism graduate, he cut his reporting teeth at the Cape Argus in the tumultuous early 1990s; then joined the Mail & Guardian as democracy dawned in April 1994. For the next 16 years a late-1990s diversion into television and freelancing apart, the M&G was his journalistic home and launch pad for award-winning investigations focusing on the nexus between politics and money. Stefaans has co-authored exposés including Oilgate, the Selebi affair, Chancellor House and significant breaks in the arms deal scandal. Stefaans and Sam Sole co-founded amaBhungane in 2010. He divides his time between the demands of media bureaucracy which he detests, coaching members of the amaBhungane team, and his first love, digging for dung.

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