WHY AND WHAN BLATTER SHOULD HAVE GONE: The Revolt of the ExCo (Executive Committee) in May 2002
As, at the beginning of Christmas week 2015, the last days of Sepp Blatter’s reign as FIFA president were further soiled in his extraordinary, egotistical and paranoid address to the world on confirmation of his eight-year ban from world football by his own ethics process/chamber, the little Swiss arrived at his press conference late. He looked battered, bruised, his higher right cheek plastered over, his baggy eyes weary, his oft-effective cheerful demeanour nowhere on show. Yet he summoned up his old defiance, attacking those who have betrayed his work, including the Europeans and some “British nations”, and those who have “tainted” him, treated him like a “punching bag”. He must have meant “punchbag” here, but was already verbally punching back, despite his self-confessed limits in English-speaking. He referred to his “footballistic and humanistic voacabulary”, and wandered and meandered on, shifting further the media schedules of the world as he pledged to fight and right the wrong that he claimed the suspension by his own organisation to be. It was a sad show, riveting but bathetic, part-pantomime, part dénouement to a Shakespearean tragedy. Whatever the lawyers and remaining supporters of the outgoing FIFA president would say or do in the forthcoming weeks and months, the Blatter reputation was in shreds, any clutch at credibility rendered useless by the emboldened actions of his own ethics process/chamber. Even his support of last resort – the FIFA Congress, where he’d still mustered 133 of 209 available national football association votes in May 2015, to win a fifth term – would be likely to turn on him should he seek to play his final card and mobilise long-term supporters and beneficiaries of his developmental and redistributive policies and strategies. Many of these would not want a reforming FIFA to come and look too closely at how, in policies like the Goal project and other financial assistance programmes, Blatter’s FIFA had administered the payments and the deposits.
But Blatter should have gone years ago, back in 2002 when FIFA’s ExCo (Executive Committee) garnered documentary evidence and extensive testimony on how Blatter ruled FIFA like a “dictator” and was exploiting the presidential position for his own personal and professional gain. Below is a version of what I wrote at the time (published in Badfellas: FIFA Family at War (Mainstream, 2003, co-author John Sugden), pp. 29-35).
THE LOST CHANCE TO EXPOSE AND DEPOSE SEPP BLATTER
Alan Tomlinson, 2002/3 and December 2015
Things had turned sour for Sepp Blatter and his support team in the first four years of his presidency and by 2002, the year after the financial collapse of partner ISL and the near bankruptcy of FIFA itself, general-secretary (GS) Michel Zen-Ruffinen had been cut out of the loop of power, and could no longer stay silent on the manner in which Blatter was running FIFA. Blatter supporter, now FBI witness, Chuck Blazer told me that ‘Blatter’s administration is much more transparent’ than that of his predecessor: ‘More meetings; more information; distribution of committee chairmanships and positions, including his opponents. Financial information much more ample and available.’ Zen-Ruffinen’s view from the heart of the FIFA administration was a million miles away from Blazer’s glowing testimonial, and he was beginning to build a case against Blatter that the Swiss legal authorities would have to answer.
At the FIFA executive committee of May 3 2002, just weeks before the upcoming presidential election, Zen-Ruffinen broke his silence on what he called ‘various turbulences.’ Here is the rationale as seen by the lawyer and former referee turned whistleblower:
FIFA is flawed by general mismanagement, disfunctions in the structures and financial irregularities.
I therefore decided to stand up for the good of the game; it has been too long, that I was loyal to the President.
Many FIFA representatives from places all over the world encouraged me with their full support to clarify matters in regard of the various harmful occurrences taking place in and outside of the headquarters of FIFA. They felt embarrassed to be seen as ‘FIFA family members’ after all the recent news which damage the image of our organisation.
In his explosive document taken to the ExCo and serving as a draft for a submission to the Swiss legal authorities, Zen-Ruffinen asserted that Blatter took over both the administration and management of FIFA, against the statutes, working with a few select people in his inner group, the F-Crew (short for Führensgruppe, or leadership group), and ‘manipulating the whole network through the material and administrative power he gained to the benefit of third persons and his personal interests. FIFA today is run like a dictatorship. FIFA is not a decent and structured organisation anymore. It has been reduced to the Blatter organisation’. Zen-Ruffinen described a bloated family at FIFA House, 150 staff now rather than 50, plus 80 refugees from the ISL debacle, now located in FIFA Marketing AG (this salariat in the Home of FIFA has since risen to around 400 in a ‘team’ Blatter proclaimed to feel ‘sad’ for in his December 2015 speech after the announcement of his eight-year ban). ‘FIFA is in a bad shape today. FIFA is disorganised, staff is dissatisfied, frustrated and the FIFA administration is governed by the President and a hand full of people of his choice. The finances only seem to be in order. In fact, FIFA today lives from income of the future’.
Blatter’s seven personal advisers are listed:
Guido Tognoni, in charge of marketing matters/relations, (FIFA Marketing AG respectively) including broadcasting relations; coordination of legal affairs.
Jérome Champagne; dealing with the elections and campaigning for the President by networking with the national associations, blatantly interfering in their affairs.
Markus Siegler, in charge of corporate communications.
Urs Linsi, CFO; Deputy GS not actually acting as such.
Michael Schallhart, HR, appointed Director by the President.
2 personal secretaries (Ms P – with Director title – and Ms S.)
All those persons did and do directly report to the President and avoid(ed) the GS.
The style of working of the F-Crew – the inner-circle of four of Blatter’s ‘closest collaborators’, Champagne, Linsi, Siegler and Schallhart – is outlined. Described to Johansson in Buenos Aires in June 2001 as ‘merely an internal consultation body’, the F-Crew went way beyond such an advisory role, and began to deal with staff appointments, budget decisions and the like. The general-secretary himself was nominally part of this grouping, but routinely found himself ‘systematically circumvented’. Zen-Ruffinen’s document describes wide-ranging forms of maladministration, personal self-aggrandizement, conflicts of interest, financial irregularities and alleged cases of outright bribery and cronyism. The spiralling mess of the FIFA finances is plain to see. Zen-Ruffinen rubbished the president’s public claim that FIFA had the highest ratings for its procedures, from established financial bodies: ‘For 1998 and earlier, the years for which the President was responsible as GS, no information is available anymore, even though documents must be stored for 10 years due to the law. Neither the former auditors of FIFA nor FIFA itself do have such information.’ Zen-Ruffinen’s summary of 1999, the first year for which he as the new general secretary had responsibility, the strategy of borrowing against future income – what one ExCo member the South Korean Chung called ‘rather like the situation of a patient who extends his life by emergency aid’ – was in place:
At the end of 1999, the liabilities exceeded the assets of FIFA, i.e. FIFA was overindebted in the amount of CHF 67.8 million. The situation could be improved since CHF 144 million were accounted as income out of TV-rights in the year 2000. However, what must be disclosed is that the balance sheet never appears to reflect a true and certain situation. Already in 1998 CHF 65 million were booked as income into the year 1998 out of TV rights regarding the World Cup 2002 to be recognised as income only for the period 1999-2002. The auditors (KPMG) have clearly criticised the respective accounting policy.
This borrowing against future assets - ‘securitisation concept’ - was used with increasing desperation by FIFA, especially after the 2001 collapse of ISL. Regardless of this, the disillusioned general secretary went on, Blatter, acting alone, could casually commit 250 million Swiss francs to the local organizing committee for the 2006 World Cup in Germany; commit 12 million Swiss francs to McKinsey & Company; and conduct numerous other dodgy financial deals with individuals and outside bodies, with little or no internal accountability back in the general-secretary’s office or to the executive committee. Zen-Ruffinen’s remarkable paper raised the stakes in the FIFA in-fighting, and provided the basis for what the following week was submitted to the Swiss prosecutor in Zurich.
It looked like this could be Blatter’s toughest ride yet. The venom flying around the factions of the executive committee, and the stunning testimony of Zen-Ruffinen, culminated in the lodging of a criminal complaint by eleven members of the executive committee, on May 10, just a couple of weeks before FIFA’s Seoul Congress at which the presidential election would be contested. It was delivered by hand to the Public Prosecutor’s Office in Zurich, ‘filed on behalf of’: Lennart Johansson, of Stockholm; David Will, of Brechin, Angus, Scotland; Antonio Mattarese, Rome; Issa Hayatou, Cairo; Mong Joon Chung, Seoul; Michael D’Hooghe, Bruges; Per Ravn Omdal, Eiksmarka, Norway; Amadou Diakité, Mali; Slim Aloulu, Tunisia; Ismael Bhanjee, Botswana; and Senes Erzik, Istanbul. This was the amassed forces of Africa and Europe pushing the FIFA wars to unprecedented levels of intensity. The complaint concerned ‘Suspicion of Breach of Trust’ and ‘Dishonest Management’, as the charges are termed in the Swiss Criminal Code, which the complainants’ attorney argued to be applicable as Blatter’s activities were on behalf of FIFA, and the city of Zurich ‘the centre of his professional activity as FIFA President’. The ‘initial situation’ of the complaint is expressed as follows:
Since his election as FIFA President in 1998, there has been and has remained a latent suspicion that the Accused was practising favouritism with FIFA assets in order to build up an autocratic power base (which is contrary to the Statutes) and in order to secure his re-election on 29 May 2002. FIFA’s financial situation has become opaque. Following the bankruptcy of the ISL/ISMM, Zug, Group in May 2001, and after the recent collapse of the Kirch Group, Munich, it became totally impenetrable. These two companies were mandated by the Executive Committee with the marketing of the TV marketing rights to the 2002 and 2006 WCs [World Cups] as a result of intensive efforts on behalf of the Accused. The FIFA Executive Committee’s requests for information were either ignored or put of or fobbed off with global statements to the effect that the FIFA was in perfect financial health.
The Complaint document established that according to FIFA Statutes ‘there is … no room for authoritarian, autocratic powers of leadership on the part of the FIFA President’, and asserts that ‘Mr Blatter’s constant stalling and varnishing tactics could not but increase the mistrust of numerous member of the Executive Committee’. It logs in some detail the way in which Blatter ‘suspended’ FIFA’s internal audit committee, so silencing potential witnesses (Zen-Ruffinen himself, and finance director Urs Linsi) when they were scheduled to give evidence to that committee, and refusing to make files available for scrutiny. Batter was operating here, the Complaint document claims, ‘again with the aim of keeping secret the financial situation of FIFA and his own financial machinations.’
Blatter’s ‘persistent, systematic secrecy tactics’, and his ‘equally persistent stalling tactics’ provided the complainants with little option: ‘Mr Blatter has forced the 11 Complainants to act … there is a pressing suspicion that the Accused misused FIFA assets entrusted to his care for the benefit of third parties and thereby for his own benefit, in order to consolidate his personal position of power.’ Thirteen individual cases – ‘individual putative offences’ - are then catalogued in this revealing document:
- Payment of US$100,000 to former executive committee member Viacheslav Koloskov, president of the Russian football union, for no services rendered: ‘the Accused sought to buy with FIFA money the vote of Mr Koloskov and the votes of further persons who are close to Mr Voloskov’.
- Payment of US$25,000, and promise of the same again, to Lucien Bouchardeau, a referee living in Nigeria, for information that could compromise or incriminate Farah Addo, who had confirmed that bribes were made to buy votes for Blatter in his 1998 presidential victory. Was this ‘an incitement to false witness’?
- Payment to Cameroonian football hero Roger Milla, of 25,000 Swiss francs, ‘to make his 50th birthday and the benefit game into a worldwide election campaign for the re-election of Sepp Blatter!’
- Bypassing FIFA’s own travel organisation, and giving travel work for the Under-17 tournament to Jack Warner [a Trindadian, then president of the confederation CONCACAF], accruing additional, unnecessary costs of US$32,135.
- Payment, in two tranches, of US$55,000 to Havelange [previous FIFA president], ‘in order that he should provide the Accused with as many votes as possible from South America for his re-election in 2002’.
- Preferential treatment of ISL and/or Kirch, in their US$220 million bid for US TV broadcasting rights to the 2002 and 2006 World Championships, and simply ignoring a bid of US$100 million more from the firm AIM.
- Unjustified writing-off of a sum of US$9,474,000, owed to FIFA by the Central, North American and Caribbean confederation (CONCACAF) – ‘patently obvious that a “friendly gesture” of that nature is apt to secure for the Accused numerous votes for his re-election’.
- Cash payment of 160,000 Swiss francs to the president of the football association of Liberia.
- Payment of US$1 million to CONCACAF, ‘accounted for under the GOAL Project, although it was contrary to procedural rules for this project’.
- Payment, for at least a year, of monthly sums of US$5,000 to Rahif Alameh of Lebanon, as a ‘personal adviser’ to FIFA: ‘However, Mr Alameh never did any work for FIFA. He was unlawfully favoured by the Accused with this sum’.
- Payment, ‘without any justification’, of US$80,000 to the Football Union of Russia, for each of the years 1999 to 2002.
- Mandating of special information technology project, to the firm SEMTOR, in which ‘one of Jack Warner’s sons occupies a leading position’, at a cost of US$1,950,000, when FIFA estimated a more realistic costing of around a third to half a million dollars.
- ‘Personal emoluments of the FIFA President’: Blatter stated on assuming the presidency that his salary was 1.4 million Swiss francs per year, but no corroboration was ever provided for this claim: ‘there is a compelling suspicion that, with his secrecy tactics, Mr Blatter is seeking to cover up unlawful personal emoluments’.
This is an extraordinary list and array of charges: vote-buying across the old Soviet satellites of East Europe, all of the Americas, particular parts of Africa; nobbling witnesses, shredding evidence; favouring insider contractors; stage-managing activities for personal aggrandizement; ignoring the board (the executive committee).
Blatter was re-elected at the May 2002 Seoul Congress for his second term, resoundingly defeating Issa Hayatou, the president of Africa’s football confederation (and as Blatter’s suspension was announced in December 2015, the acting chair of FIFA’s ExCo).
The signatories to the legal submission saw an opportunity lost as Blatter reaffirmed his stranglehold on the Congress and power, and the Swiss authorities took no action.
Zen-Ruffinen was shown the door immediately, and others lost their positions as Blatter consolidated his autocratic and dictatorial style.
Blatter also served legal papers on the authors of Badfellas, the book’s publisher, and Amazon Germany, alleging defamation and seeking to stop distribution of the book in his home country. In history’s turning points silence has often outscored justice. The silence, stubbornness or collusion of the Swiss legal authorities in the early Summer of 2002 gave Sepp Blatter a mandate to continue his tarnished and morally defunct reign for a further thirteen years. The story of how Blatter built this FIFA of greed and corruption, a FIFA ripe for investigation and prosecution from 2002 onwards, will become available again in a re-issue of Badfellas under the title Football, Corruption and Lies: Re-visiting “Badfellas”, the book FIFA tried to Ban (Alan Tomlinson, with John Sugden), published by Routledge in 2016.