- Associated Press - Monday, May 30, 2011

ZURICH (AP) - FIFA President Sepp Blatter says “great damage” has been done to world soccer’s governing body by bribery allegations against two senior executive committee members.

Mohamed bin Hammam and Jack Warner were barred Sunday by an ethics committee from all FIFA business pending a full inquiry into allegations Caribbean soccer leaders were paid $40,000 each to back the Qatari’s now-abandoned presidential bid.

Blatter was also investigated as part of the probe but was cleared.

The Swiss leader said Monday that in recent days the scandals had done “great damage to the image of FIFA.”

The path has been cleared for Blatter to be re-elected for a fourth term Wednesday after bin Hammam withdrew from the election hours before being suspended.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

ZURICH (AP) _ FIFA’s bribery scandal spread Monday beyond allegations about the presidential election to include the selection of Qatar as the 2022 World Cup host, with evidence that FIFA’s second in command suggested the desert nation had “bought” the right to host the world’s biggest single-sport event.

Qatar’s World Cup organizers swiftly denied the implication made in a private email from FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valcke.

Valcke said later Monday that by using the word “bought,” he meant Qatar was using the “financial strength” of an energy rich nation to lobby for backing, but he did not mean to claim any unethical behavior on its part. Still, Valcke’s message left the impression the World Cup was up for the highest bidder.

“I have at no time made, or was intending to make, any reference to any purchase of votes,” Valcke said in a statement about his email to FIFA Vice President Jack Warner, who was provisionally suspended Sunday.

Qatar 2022 said it was “urgently seeking clarification from FIFA about the statement from their General Secretary. In the meantime we are taking legal advice to consider our options.”

The issue compounded the problems for FIFA President Sepp Blatter, who was preparing to speak publicly Monday for the first time since Warner and his former challenger Mohamed bin Hammam of Qatar were suspended.

After years of dismissing claims of corruption, FIFA caved in Sunday, an extraordinary day in its 107-year history. Warner and bin Hammam were suspended after an inquiry into allegations that Caribbean soccer leaders were paid $40,000 each to back bin Hammam’s now-abandoned presidential bid.

At the same time, FIFA’s ethics panel cleared Blatter of ignoring the alleged bribery plan, and left him as the sole candidate Wednesday for the biggest job in the world’s most popular sport.

But the fallout from the two suspensions is clearly only just beginning.

Warner _ the suspended head of the 35-nation North, Central American and Caribbean (CONCACAF) regional body _ told British broadcaster Sky he would consult a Swiss judge about the legality of the suspension, even though FIFA statutes prohibit soccer officials from seeking verdicts at a national court.

Bin Hammam said he would also appeal, saying “the way these proceedings have been conducted is absolutely not compliant with any principles of justice” and that they “had been defined from the very beginning.”

Valcke confirmed Monday that he sent a private email hinting Qatar had “bought” the right to host the 2022 World Cup. The email was made public by Warner just after he was suspended.

“For MBH, I never understood why he was running,” Valcke told Warner in the email. “If really he thought he had a chance or just being an extreme way to express how much he does not like anymore JSB (Blatter). Or he thought you can buy FIFA as they bought the WC.”

Valcke, speaking before a CONCACAF meeting in Zurich, said: “It was a private email and we will discuss it. He sent me an email asking if I want that (bin Hammam to run), he said that I should ask bin Hammam to pull out.”

Asked whether Valcke’s assertion about Qatar 2022 in the email was true, bin Hammam responded Monday by saying: “What do you think?”

“You would have to ask Jerome Valcke what he was thinking,” he told the BBC when asked about the email’s contents. “I don’t know why he has said that.

“If I was paying money for Qatar you also have to ask the 13 people who voted for Qatar.”

CONCACAF was meeting Monday morning to plan a future without its president of 21 years.

Whistle-blowers and suspected bribe-takers gathered together as FIFA seeks more evidence in the next 30 days for the inquiry.

FIFA’s gravest corruption crisis was sparked by a file of evidence submitted by Chuck Blazer, the American general secretary of CONCACAF and a longtime FIFA executive panel member.

Blazer told The Associated Press on Sunday there was “much more evidence” to come detailing what happened when bin Hammam and Warner arranged a May 10-11 election trip to meet 25 Caribbean Football Union members in Warner’s native Trinidad.

FIFA’s suspension of bin Hammam has been met with widespread anger in the Middle East.

Asian Football Confederation Vice President Yousuf al-Serkal, an ally of bin Hammam from neighboring United Arab Emirates, said he didn’t believe the charges and saw them as a bid to remove him from the presidential race.

“Bin Hammam has been mistreated,” al-Serkal said. “Bin Hammam is the right person who should have been elected.”

“All the allegations were just from a report,” he added. “I feel sorry for the person I have known for long time as a decent person.”

Newspapers in Egypt were especially critical of the 75-year-old Blatter, who is seeking a fourth term as leader of world soccer’s governing body.

The Al-Dustour daily said bin Hammam had “surrendered to the tyranny of Blatter.” Al-Gomhuria called the Swiss president a “sly fox who cannot be easily hunted” and compared him to Egypt’s longtime president, Hosni Mubarak, who was ousted from office earlier this year.


Raf Casert in Zurich and Michael Casey in Dubai contributed to this report.

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