To enjoy the full Mail & Guardian online experience: please upgrade your browser
05 Jun 2015 06:38
Former president Thabo Mbeki (centre) and outgoing Fifa president Sepp Blatter (right). (Reuters)
What did former president Thabo Mbeki and Fifa president Sepp Blatter know about – and do to facilitate – the $10-million “bribe” allegedly to
win the 2010 World Cup vote?
This week, doubt faded about whether the amount was paid; whether South
Africa intended for it to be paid; and whether it went to private
pockets. Fifa confirmed paying it.
Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula
confirmed what is evident from leaked correspondence – that the
government wanted it paid.
Underlying the question of culpability, is whether South African and
Fifa officials knew, or should have known, that the money was intended
to influence the May 2004 Fifa vote in South Africa’s favour, or that it
would fund football bosses rather than football development.
There, too, the evidence is mounting, and the context is instructive.
The US indictment alleges then Concacaf president Jack Warner and
secretary general Chuck Blazer visited Morocco in the months before the
Fifa vote, and that Warner accepted a $1-million bribe to favour that
country to host the World Cup. Concacaf is the football confederation of
North and Central America and the Caribbean.
But this changed when South Africa allegedly trumped Morocco with an
offer to pay Warner $10-million. Warner, Blazer and a third Concacaf
official voted for South Africa at the Fifa congress in Zurich on May 15
2004, handing it a 14-10 victory over Morocco.
During the run-up to the vote, Warner and Blazer were lobbied fiercely
by South Africa. Warner attended former President Thabo Mbeki’s presidential inauguration on
April 27, three weeks before the Fifa vote.
From there, he and Blazer joined South African bid chief executive
Danny Jordaan, politician-turned-businessperson Tokyo Sexwale,
Archbishop Desmond Tutu and a frail Nelson Mandela on a business jet to
Warner’s home country, Trinidad and Tobago.
From Trinidad, Mandela and Tutu would have travelled to Concacaf’s
annual congress in Granada to put South Africa’s case, but the trip was
cut short when news of the death of Mandela’s first wife, Evelyn,
The fact that South Africa rolled out its biggest guns to woo Warner
and Concacaf indicates how crucial bid officials considered Concacaf’s
vote to be.
In a later address to business leaders, Sexwale and bid chairperson
Irvin Khoza hinted at Warner’s assertiveness in turning Concacaf’s Fifa
voting power to his own advantage. They said that he had asked for an
assurance that Mandela would come. When the latter’s doctors advised
against him travelling, it sparked a debate that eventually included
Mbeki. The doctors were overruled.
Warner’s insistence on Mandela visiting his home country reportedly
related to his political ambitions. An opposition politician, he was
running for office and would have benefited from the association with
the elder statesman.
Two weeks later there was more contact between Warner, Blazer and South
Africa’s top guns. On May 14, the day before the vote,
reported having witnessed Mbeki, Mandela and former president FW de
Klerk arriving at a Zurich hotel earlier that day, followed by Warner
and Blazer, who were whisked upstairs to meet Mbeki and Mandela.
The Star reported being reliably informed that Warner had promised them his “full support”.
A senior government official this week claimed that Warner had, in the
period before the vote, solicited gratification from South African
“He was told off but was persistent. He engaged the then minister [of
sport] and the government of South Africa was not interested. He was
very persistent, according to information at my disposal.”
At that point outgoing Fifa president Sepp Blatter, who had staked much on the South African bid,
appealed to the South African government at a high level, according to
the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. The official claimed
that Blatter “hinted” at the need to gratify Warner, given that South
Africa appeared to be two votes short if Concacaf swung the other way.
It may be fair to assume that Blatter’s approach was to Mbeki, given
the Fifa president’s preference for dealing directly with heads of
Mbeki’s spokesperson did not respond to requests for comment. Fifa
spokesperson Delia Fischer did not respond directly to the allegation
about Blatter, but repeated an earlier statement that said “the request
[that Fifa pays the $10-million to accounts controlled by Warner] came
from the South African government with the concurrence of Safa and the
LOC [local organising committee].”
According to the US indictment, it was during the high-stakes lobbying
leading up to the vote that South Africa agreed to pay $10-million to
support football development in the “African diaspora”.
If the indictment is right about the timing, it is hard to imagine that
the men who led the bid and the country did not perceive a nexus
between the donation they promised and Concacaf’s support. And, if
Warner was as insistent as described, it is equally hard to imagine they
did not envisage him pocketing it.
* Got a tip-off for us about this story? Click here.
The M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism (amaBhungane) produced this story. All views are ours. See www.amabhungane.co.za for our stories, activities and funding sources.
Create Account | Lost Your Password?