NEW YORK, June 4- The FIFA corruption scandal escalated Thursday as one suspect told of World Cup bribes and another promised to reveal an “avalanche” of secrets, including about FIFA president Sepp Blatter.
The storm went around the globe with South African police opening an investigation into claims that money was paid to secure the 2010 World Cup.
Australian police are looking into their country’s bid for the 2022 World Cup, while in Venezuela investigators raided the country’s football headquarters looking for evidence against a FIFA official held in the scandal.
Following the shock resignation of Blatter on Tuesday, focus has shifted to the US investigation which led to seven FIFA officials being arrested last week in Zurich.
Evidence given by ailing whistleblower Chuck Blazer to US investigators told of attempts to buy the 1998 and 2010 World Cups hosted by France and South Africa respectively.
Now battling cancer in hospital, the disgraced former North American football supremo said in testimony released by prosecutors that FIFA executives conspired to accept bribes during bidding for the 1998 and 2010 events.
Blazer has admitted to charges related to his leadership of the North and Central American body CONCACAF and membership of FIFA’s executive committee.
In a plea deal with US prosecutors, the 70-year-old agreed to wear a microphone and record conversations with other FIFA officials. None of the other suspects are named.
“Among other things, I agreed with other persons in or around 1992 to facilitate the acceptance of a bribe in conjunction with the selection of the host nation for the 1998 World Cup,” Blazer said in his plea.
France beat Morocco in the bidding to stage that tournament. A document detailing the charges says that Blazer was present when a co-conspirator accepted a bribe in Morocco.
– Tainted World Cup bids –
Blazer went on to admit that he and “others on the FIFA executive committee” agreed to accept bribes in conjunction with the selection of South Africa to host the World Cup in 2010.
South African officials have angrily denied allegations by US investigators that they paid $10 million (8.9 million euros) in bribes in 2008 to secure the rights.
The money allegedly went to Jack Warner, a former FIFA vice-president and another former CONCACAF head. He was suspended by the world body in 2011 for corruption.
Warner promised Wednesday in his native Trinidad and Tobago to tell an “avalanche” of secrets.
“I reasonably and surely fear for my life,” he declared in a paid political broadcast and later added that “not even death will stop the avalanche that is coming.”
Warner said he had a file which “deals with my knowledge of international transactions at FIFA, including its president Mr Sepp Blatter” and “Trinidad and Tobago’s prime minister.”
Reports say US investigators believe FIFA secretary-general Jerome Valcke authorized the transfer. But Valcke, who was effectively Blatter’s right-hand man, insists that he had nothing to do with it.
Warner is one of 14 football officials and sports marketing officials charged over more than $150 million in bribes.
– Hawks investigate –
A special South African police unit, the Hawks, said Thursday it was looking into the bribery claims following a request from an opposition party. It stressed that no formal investigation had been launched.
Venezuelan prosecutors raided the headquarters of the country’s football federation, whose leader Rafael Esquivel is one of seven FIFA officials held in Switzerland.
The prosecutors also said in a statement that they have banned Esquivel from disposing of his assets.
In parallel to the US inquiry, Swiss prosecutors are looking into the award of the 2018 and 2022 World Cup tournaments to Russia and Qatar.
Australian police said they were now looking into corruption claims around Australia’s failed 2022 bid, with Football Federation Australia chairman Frank Lowy saying FIFA’s handling of the tournament was “not clean”.
Australian Sports Minister Sussan Ley said the government would need to see substantial reform at FIFA before considering any further bids.
Despite the storm surrounding Blatter, about 400 staff at the FIFA headquarters gave him standing ovation the day after his resignation, which has sparked a race to take over as head of the world’s richest and most powerful sporting federation.
The vote is not expected until December at the earliest.