‘US on mission to clean up FIFA’
RT:The US is serious about cleaning up World Football - even though they won't call it that. All jokes aside, the US prosecution says all the defendants abused America's financial system - that's why they can be tried in the US. Did you see this coming?
Paul Nicholson: Yes and no. FIFA said themselves earlier [on Wednesday] that there was perhaps no surprise that there was going to be a full frontal assault from the US. Perhaps the timing is the interesting part.
There are two parts to the story today. It’s been absolutely incredible in terms of football politics. The first part of the story was [Wednesday] morning when seven people were arrested…seized in dawn raids by Swiss police acting on behalf of the US authorities. They included the president of CONCACAF [Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football]. They are accused of basically grafting, taking kickbacks, all kinds of marketing money that should have been funneling through and from the US perspective – when those deals were not done in the US - not paying US taxes and that’s really the key that got the US started on this.
The second part of the investigation - which is not entirely related, but it does relate back to the US again - but it’s what happened three hours after this arrest when Swiss police on the direction of their own authorities raided the Swiss headquarters of FIFA in Zurich, took a load of documents and data relating to the bids for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, obviously the World Cups that are going to be hosted by Russia and Qatar.
RT:FIFA President Sepp Blatter is not among those arrested. Could this be that he just didn't know about the scope of corruption within the body?
PN: I don’t think anybody realizes the scope of corruption that they have been accused of and I suspect it isn’t quite as deep as the Americans are making out. You’ve got to remember that the Americans lost out or [were] humiliated in 2022 bid and since then have been on a little bit of a mission - as what they say - to clean up FIFA. That sparked an investigation following the high profile involvement of Kissinger [former US Secretary of State] in the US bid. The rumor was that Kissinger went back and said, “I want this organization cleaned up.” So there is a little bit of that behind it.
Does Blatter know of that scope of corruption? He’s bound to know some of it. It’s the first time it’s come up. Whether he could prove it himself it’s very difficult to say. And we have to remember FIFA went through with the US-led investigation into the whole ethics process and they couldn’t find enough evidence against those accused of all kinds of crimes - particularly Qatar - to change things. So he might know, he might suspect but I don’t think he has approved. That’s been no smoking gun.
RT:How can the scandal affect the upcoming events in Russia and Qatar?
PN: Ultimately the American objective, one would assume, is a soft political objective obviously for 2018 with the differences that the US has with Russia. We have already seen letters from senators sent to FIFA saying that the World Cup should be removed from Russia. There has also been a similar kind of response from Russia. That’s not being taken particularly seriously. The 2022 bid is probably a little more worrying for Qatar because the allegations are much deeper corruption, the cash for votes to get the bid - that kind of stuff.
So how far would it go? Ultimately it could go to a revote on the World Cup or the stripping of the World Cup from Russia and Qatar. The reality is I don’t think it would go that far because I think you have to find an awful lot of evidence that the corruption changed the voting pen of the bid, or it went to the wrong guys. I don’t think that’s necessarily the case.
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