Blatter says FIFA corruption probe won't lead to him
Having come through another FIFA election largely unscathed, Sepp Blatter was in a typically defiant mood yesterday when addressing the challenges that still lie ahead.
The 79-year-old FIFA president dismissed suggestions that a United States government investigation of corruption in football could lead to his door. Several senior FIFA officials have been arrested already, but Blatter shrugged off the notion that he could be next.
"Arrested for what? Next question," Blatter said curtly when meeting international media for the first time since American and Swiss federal cases rocked FIFA's home city on Wednesday.
"I forgive, but I don't forget," Blatter also said at FIFA headquarters, referring to a European-led attempt to oust him after 17 years in office.
A busy first day of his new four-year presidential term saw the leader of the world's most popular sport scold critics and take acclaim from allies.
Blatter criticised US Attorney General Loretta Lynch and received a congratulatory telegram from Vladimir Putin, president of 2018 World Cup host Russia.
Gone was the tension which put a tremor in his voice after Swiss police raided FIFA's favorite luxury hotel in Zurich early Wednesday.
Blatter insisted he had nothing to fear from the US federal case which alleged a $150-million bribe scheme linked to broadcast rights for tournaments in North and South America. Two FIFA vice-presidents were among seven men arrested.
"I do not see how FIFA could be directly affected by this," Blatter said.
He was equally adamant when responding to questions about whether the probe can't still directly affect him.
Was he the "high-ranking FIFA official" mentioned in the Department of Justice indictment who wired $10 million to corrupt North American officials? The apparent bribes were paid from a FIFA account in exchange for voting for South Africa as the 2010 World Cup host.
"Definitely that is not me," Blatter said. "I have no $10 million."
Lynch said Wednesday that FIFA and marketing officials - 14 indicted and four who made guilty pleas - had "corrupted the business of worldwide soccer to serve their interests and to enrich themselves."
"I was shocked by what she said," Blatter told French-language broadcaster RTS. "As a president, I would never make a statement about another organisation without knowing."
"Listen, with all the respect to the judicial system of the US with a new minister of justice," Blatter said, "the Americans, if they have a financial crime that regards American citizens, then they must arrest these people there and not in Zurich when we have a congress."
"I have especially no concerns about my person," he said about the investigation, which US federal agencies claim is just starting.
The seven football officials detained are resisting extradition and face 20 years in prison. Any questioning and plea bargaining could take American authorities deeper into the heart of FIFA.
Those detained include FIFA Vice-President Jeffrey Webb, a Cayman Islands banker with homes in Georgia. Webb was a member of FIFA's audit panel more than a decade ago when FIFA was in severe financial crisis.