- Associated Press - Friday, May 27, 2011

GENEVA (AP) - FIFA placed its own president under investigation Friday in a widening bribery scandal just days before he is scheduled to face re-election.

FIFA said Sepp Blatter, who is accused of turning a blind eye to alleged bribes being paid to Caribbean voters, must submit a statement by Saturday before facing an ethics committee hearing in Zurich on Sunday.

With both Blatter and rival candidate Mohamed bin Hammam now under investigation, it is unclear whether next Wednesday’s election will go ahead.

“I cannot comment on the proceedings that have been opened against me. The facts will speak for themselves,” Blatter said in a statement released by his campaign advisers.

Bin Hammam and senior FIFA official Jack Warner were summoned Wednesday to face the ethics panel on charges of bribing voters during a Caribbean campaign visit.

The allegations were leveled by American FIFA executive committee member Chuck Blazer. Blatter, who is seeking a fourth term as president, has described suggestions he “masterminded” the scandal to remove his Qatari rival from the race as “ludicrous.”

“In the report submitted by … Chuck Blazer earlier this week, FIFA vice president Jack Warner would have informed the FIFA President in advance about alleged cash payments to delegations attending a special meeting of the Caribbean Football Union,” FIFA said in a statement Friday.

Up to 25 delegates who have votes in the election were allegedly offered cash bribes at the May 10-11 conference in Warner’s native Trinidad, where he is a government minister. Delegates were allegedly offered $40,000 in cash for “development projects.”

Bin Hammam requested Thursday that FIFA also investigate Blatter in the affair that has thrown soccer’s governing body into chaos and left the scheduled election up in the air.

Bin Hammam, who denies the bribery allegations, claims Blatter broke ethics rules by not reporting apparent corruption attempts.

FIFA’s ethics rules require officials to “report any evidence of violations of conduct.”

Bin Hammam, Warner and two CFU officials have been summoned before the ethics panel based on Blazer’s explosive file of evidence.

Blatter “had no issue” with the bribes being arranged, according to bin Hammam’s formal complaint.

Warner, a senior FIFA official for 28 years, allegedly said that “the FIFA President would have had no issue” with the payments.

Support from the Caribbean has long been seen as crucial to bin Hammam’s hopes of unseating former ally Blatter.

Blazer, the highest-ranking American in FIFA, has been an executive committee and CONCACAF regional body colleague of the men he accuses for more than 15 years.

Blatter is the eighth current member of FIFA’s 24-man ruling panel under investigation for alleged corruption. Two former members were suspended after a British newspaper investigation into vote-trading ahead of the 2018 and 2022 World Cup votes.

FIFA was sifting through evidence Friday while also preparing for next week’s gathering of 208 soccer nations in Zurich. Blatter has called for allegations made in a British Parliamentary inquiry this month to be resolved before election day.

British lawmakers published claims from a Qatari bid whistleblower that African football confederation president Issa Hayatou of Cameroon and Jacques Anouma of the Ivory Coast received $1.5 million bribes to vote for the emirate’s successful 2022 bid.

The former head of England’s failed 2018 bid, David Triesman, told the inquiry that Warner asked for money to build an education center and buy 2010 World Cup broadcast rights for Haiti. Warner denied the allegation.

Triesman said three other FIFA voters made improper requests for inducements: Nicolas Leoz, South America’s football president from Paraguay; Ricardo Teixeira, who heads Brazil’s 2014 World Cup preparations; and Worawi Makudi, a bin Hammam loyalist from Thailand. They have all denied the accusations.

FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke and legal director Marco Villiger will take the lead on making decisions on whether any officials should face separate ethics probes.

The ethics panel suspended Nigerian Amos Adamu and Reynald Temarii from Tahiti last November following an undercover sting by The Sunday Times. Adamu is appealing his three-year ban for bribery to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, and Temarii accepted his one-year sanction for breaking FIFA loyalty rules.

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