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Interview: Investigative Reporter Compares FIFA To 'Organized Crime Family'

British investigative reporter Andrew Jennings
British investigative reporter Andrew Jennings

World soccer's governing body, FIFA, is facing new allegations of corruption over its contentious decision to award the 2022 World Cup to Qatar. Britain's "Sunday Times" newspaper recently revealed it had evidence that a Qatari football official spent $5 million in bribes to FIFA officials in exchange for their support for the country's bid to host the event.

Qatar has denied the allegations, but an inquiry has been launched into the bidding process. If any wrongdoing is uncovered, Qatar could be stripped of the right to host the World Cup and a re-vote would have to take place.

In an interview with RFE/RL's Natalya Golitsyna, British investigative reporter Andrew Jennings -- who is best known for his work uncovering corruption in FIFA and the International Olympic Committee -- says he is not surprised by the fresh allegations.

RFE/RL: You have written two books about corruption. What do you think of this organization in general and especially its president, Sepp Blatter?

Andrew Jennings: When I first started looking at FIFA 10 or 12 years ago, I got a nasty twitching of my nose because I had spent a lot of time before then investigating organized crime, and I came to the view very quickly that FIFA meets the definition of an organized crime family with loyalty coming up from the national associations and goodies trickling down like World Cup tickets, unaudited grants [...etc.]. So, I think they are a bunch of gangsters, I don't trust them, and I don't think anybody should.

RFE/RL: The "Sunday Times" article tells of a conspiracy to buy the World Cup. Do you really believe in conspiracy?

Jennings: [In] every World Cup, money is paid! Germany paid to get the 2006 World Cup and it's been widely quoted in the German media that the former TV mogul Leo Kirch, who would have profited hugely from the World Cup in Germany in 2006 -- in 2000, his people were out there paying money to FIFA Executive Committee members -- now, that wasn't my story but it's true, because the German reporters gave me some documents at the time.

So, anywhere where you have a World Cup -- in South Africa you had again construction companies made the money and FIFA takes all the television rights. Everybody makes money, except the poor bloody taxpayer. ... And they could steal more from South Africa because there's just so little financial policing there. Now they've gone to Brazil where the corrupt [FIFA President Sepp] Blatter gave the World Cup to the corrupt [former Brazilian Football Confederation president Ricardo] Teixeira.

RFE/RL: You are saying that corruption preceding FIFA Executive Committee decisions to grant World Cup hosting rights is rampant. Is it possible that Russia also bribed FIFA to host the championship in 2018?

Jennings: At the moment we must say, to be fair, there is no evidence that Russia paid or anybody in Russia paid. But what we do notice is that there is such a smell over Qatar and now so much evidence of money being paid -- the vote, the guys who voted for Qatar. So I think if Qatar is cancelled, which it must be -- [there] absolutely must be a re-vote -- then because it was a bunch of crooks at FIFA who voted it, the same crooks voted it to Russia, so the vote doesn't have any integrity. The vote for both 2018 and 2022 should be held again.

RFE/RL: The investigation of bribery and corruption in connection with the Qatar scandal is being handled by FIFA Ethics Committee member Michael Garcia, who is a former U.S. prosecutor. Do you expect him to be unbiased?

Jennings: Well, I don't trust Garcia at all. He is not like a state prosecutor. If you go to a trial anywhere in the civilized world, you see all the evidence laid out -- the prosecution evidence and the defense evidence -- and you, as a citizen, can make up your mind whether you believe the police or whether you believe the individual; and a judge and a jury have that task. Now, Sepp Blatter rewrote the ethics code at FIFA so all evidence is suppressed -- all you get is a verdict. Well, I call that the Stalin show trials of the 1930s, where you were just told you'd been shot yesterday. You couldn't do that in a democracy. But FIFA isn't a democracy -- it's Blatter's private mobbed-up club.

RFE/RL: It seems like $5 million is not a huge amount of money to pay to host the World Cup. It doesn't appear to be extremely expensive to buy the World Cup...

Jennings: Well, there is a lot more that went on. You see, I think a lot more money went into FIFA at FIFA. Those were all low-level African, not very wealthy, sports administrators. And being taken on a trip to Doha, where you don't actually see all the bills, a lot more money was spent that is unaccounted for. We're told there was hospitality. We might have seen some air-flight money. They are drowning in money in Qatar as we know. They have more money than they can count. These officials are not very well off and they are easily bought -- indeed they put themselves up for sale. So I think there's a lot more money. We have four weeks of disclosure yet to come from the "Sunday Times," we only have the first one.

RFE/RL: What do you think about the future of [Qatari ex-football administrator Mohamed] bin Hammam? Do you think it's possible to prosecute him?

Jennings: There is no way Qatar would let him be taken out of the country. They're not going to prosecute him because they refuse to look at the evidence. If they prosecute him, imagine what he would say. Yes, we should have attempts by foreign police forces to extradite him. But nobody is going to try that; nobody wants to. The only people who might, as I put in my new book "Omerta" -- the FBI have been investigating FIFA for three and a half years now. I've met them three times in is an offense to pay bribes in U.S. dollars -- that's American law.

Now, if they start pushing on this they could get lots of people, because all those bribes or many of those bribes appear to have been paid in U.S. dollars. So, this story is going to go on and on and on. We've only had [a few] days of this. Wait till we get to Brazil -- there is going to be blood on the streets in Brazil anyway because they hate FIFA. This new story from Qatar is going to make people even angrier.

RFE/RL: What is your solution to stop and prevent corruption in FIFA? How can it be reformed to avoid corruption?

Jennings: Well, I think you could probably do two things. One is the Swiss government should get up off its bum and order FIFA and all the sports federations that make homes for themselves including the IOC [International Olympic Committee], in Switzerland say: "Right you do what governments do -- you put everything online." Imagine I can find out what all the French [officials]...what the German and the British and the Americans earn. It's all online. It's all disclosed.

You can't find out what Blatter earns from a football organization for goodness sake. That's how crooked he is. Now if the Swiss government said: "You all put everything online or you leave the country," they would do it because it would be so humiliating to leave. And I think the...United Nations or the EU should just say: "We've had enough of these crooks, screwing up the most popular game in the world. We are going to have a conference and we are going to figure out how to run world football without Blatter and his gang."

And they could do it. The European parliament could do it. All the governments of the EU -- the EU has been very concerned, the European Parliament has been very concerned. I have addressed meetings in Paris of various EU bodies and they are very angry. It is time they actually got up in the Commission and said we've had enough of this and Blatter says: "You can't touch us," and they say: "Just watch because we are going to take you on [via] our local football authorities, so that they force you to get in line." See, with Blatter, people say: "Oh, he's ever so powerful." He isn't. He is all hot air.

RFE/RL: Why do we have the impression that football corruption is a custom for third world countries? Why is the power in FIFA not held by footballing countries but rather African and Arab non-footballing countries?

Jennings: Well [Blatter's] never tried it. He doesn't want democracy and...transparency and a lack of corruption because all these corrupt officials support him. That's the awful thing. They've got honest officials and he goes to great lengths around the world to make sure that crooked people run football.

You know FIFA's rule if the government interferes -- steps in to say "Our local national association is corrupt," Blatter will suspend the country. He even threatened Brazil in 2002 and Brazilians said: "You can't be serious; you want to ban Brazil from the World Cup?" But he tried it; he was bluffing. Now he does it to small countries, African and small European countries are regularly threatened of being banned.

And, sadly, their politicians don't say: "Who is this person? Who is this person telling us that our governments, our laws, and our police are not allowed to look at corruption in football?" And if they started standing up to him, he'd be finished.

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