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Editorial: Fifa must say no to cagey Tokyo

Tokyo Sexwale may have the drive, ambition and diplomatic skills to run the $5.7?billion-a-year juggernaut that is Fifa. And it would, of course, be nice to have a South African at the helm of the world’s most important sporting body.

But Sexwale’s opaque and controversial business dealings, particularly on our continent, raise obvious questions about whether he has the right kind of profile and track record to rebuild the federation’s battered reputation.

Also of concern are his links with some of the figures most deeply tarnished by Fifa’s seemingly endless corruption and governance scandals, including Caribbean football chief Jack Warner and German football legend Franz Beckenbauer. This does not, of course, imply that Sexwale has grease on his palms. But what is problematic is his secretive style of doing business, which makes a jarring contrast with his pious calls for transparency and accountability in world football.

Certain of his business relationships also raise questions. Why, for example, did he opt to partner with Israeli billionaire Dan Gertler, accused by nongovernmental monitors of making most of his fortune “by looting the Democratic Republic of Congo at the expense of the people”?

Gertler denies the allegation and claims that he should receive a Nobel prize for his work in the Congo.

But what is undeniable is that his partnership with Sexwale was mediated through a murky network of companies registered in secrecy havens.

The international vehicle involving Sexwale, African Management Ltd, is itself registered in a secrecy jurisdiction. It profited handsomely from the knock-down sale of a mining right to Gertler by the government of President Joseph Kabila, a friend of the Israeli.

As an African, Sexwale should be concerned about Gertler’s controversy-plagued record in Africa. Much the same applies to his relationship with South African plutocrat Walter Hennig, who drove a mining deal with Guinean President Alpha Condé that was widely condemned as disadvantageous to the West African country.

It is a truism that whoever succeeds the discredited Sepp Blatter as Fifa president has to be above suspicion and moral doubt. Whatever his other virtues, Sexwale falls short of this exacting requirement.

*This comment originally appeared as an editorial in the Mail & Guardian.

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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.

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Drew Forrest
Drew Forrest has been working as a journalist for 40 years, with stints at Business Day, Mail & Guardian, Times of Swaziland and the amaBhungane Centre for Investigative Journalism. He has been a deputy editor, political editor, business editor and labour editor, among other positions. Author of a book on cricket, The Pacemen (Pan Macmillan 2013), he has also edited several non-fiction books. He is the managing partner (editorial) of IJ Hub, a regional training offshoot of amaBhungane.

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