GENEVA — The bribery scandal that has already tarnished FIFA's reputation and thrown next week's presidential election into disarray has become even more tangled, with the most powerful man in soccer – Sepp Blatter – now accused of corruption.
The longtime FIFA president was ordered Friday to appear before the soccer federation's ethics committee on Sunday, three days before he is to stand for re-election, after being accused of ignoring alleged bribes to Caribbean voters. Blatter's only rival for president, Mohamed bin Hammam, and longtime FIFA power broker Jack Warner were accused earlier this week of trying to buy the Caribbean votes.
"I cannot comment on the proceedings that have been opened against me," Blatter said in a statement released by his advisers. "The facts will speak for themselves."
The ethics committee gave Blatter until Saturday to submit a response. Bin Hammam has already denied the vote-buying accusations, and contends there is "increasing evidence of a conspiracy" against him.
Namibian judge Petrus Damaseb, who will chair the ethics hearing, is to announce the panel's initial findings Sunday night at FIFA headquarters. If the committee finds wrongdoing, one or both candidates could be kicked off the ballot. They also could be provisionally suspended – effectively preventing them from running – if the panel decides it needs more time to study the evidence.
Bin Hammam said he is confident the ethics panel will "see through this tawdry maneuver" to remove him from the race. But British Sports Minister Hugh Robertson said the election had "descended into a farce" and should be postponed.
European soccer president Michel Platini, widely expected to run for FIFA president in 2015, said Friday he expects the election to go on as scheduled next week.
"To not have elections you need three-quarters of the assembly who will say, 'No elections,'" said the former French star, who has never been linked to scandal in his nine years as a member of FIFA's executive committee.
Suspicions of corruption have overshadowed FIFA for years. There's already an investigation into vote-trading allegations surrounding the 2018 and 2022 World Cup votes, and eight members of the 24-man executive committee are currently under investigation for alleged corruption.
But these latest allegations have the potential to cause havoc at the highest levels of the world's most popular sport, the timing and source giving them a gravity that previous scandals lacked. The accusations were leveled by Chuck Blazer, one of FIFA's own and the No. 2 man to Warner in CONCACAF, which represents North and Central America and the Caribbean.
Blazer, who is also the lone American on FIFA's executive committee, gave FIFA a file accusing bin Hammam and Warner of trying to buy votes during a Caribbean campaign visit. Up to 25 delegates who have votes in the election were allegedly offered $40,000 in cash during a May 10-11 conference in Warner's native Trinidad.
Two Caribbean Football Union officials also have been accused of wrongdoing.
"Nobody has ever tried to hide the fact that Mr. bin Hammam paid for the delegates' travel and accommodation expenses and covered the meeting's administrative costs," a statement on the Qatari official's blog said Friday.
Support from Caribbean voters has long been seen as crucial to bin Hammam's bid to unseat Blatter, who took the presidency in 1998 – when bin Hammam helped manage his campaign. The meeting in Trinidad was set up after bin Hammam, who travels on a diplomatic passport, missed the CONCACAF regional body's congress in Miami, citing problems getting a U.S. entry visa.
Bin Hammam threw the race into further chaos Thursday, when he asked FIFA to investigate Blatter's role in the affair. Bin Hammam contends Blatter broke ethics rules by not reporting apparent corruption attempts. FIFA's ethics rules require officials to "report any evidence of violations of conduct."
Warner, a senior FIFA official for 28 years, allegedly said "the FIFA president would have had no issue" with the payments.
Blatter, who is seeking a fourth term as FIFA president, has described suggestions he "masterminded" the scandal to remove his Qatari rival from the race as "ludicrous."
Warner is also under investigation following a British Parliamentary inquiry into the 2018 and 2022 World Cup votes this month.
Lawmakers published claims two weeks ago from a Qatari bid whistleblower that African soccer 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 soccer 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.
Blatter has called for the accusations to be resolved before election day. 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 investigations.
The ethics panel suspended Nigeria's Amos Adamu and Tahiti's Reynald Temarii 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.