FIFA in turmoil as Blatter faces corruption probe

PARIS, May 27, 2011 (AFP) - The battle for the FIFA presidency was thrown further into turmoil on Friday as football's governing body announced they have opened a probe for alleged corruption against president Sepp Blatter.

Blatter will appear before FIFA's ethics committee on Sunday after claims he knew about alleged cash payments at the centre of an investigation targeting his election rival Mohamed Bin Hammam.

Bin Hammam had demanded the corruption investigation be widened to include Blatter on Thursday as the two men prepare to contest a June 1 election for control of world football.

AFP file - Asian Football Confederation president Mohamed bin Hammam (C) waves to the crowd as FIFA President Sepp Blatter (L) applauds after Hamman was re-elected unopposed for a second term as AFC president during the 22nd AFC Congress in Kuala Lumpur, on May 08, 2007.

The announcement came two days after Bin Hammam, FIFA vice-president Jack Warner and two Caribbean Football Union officials were summoned to the ethics committee to answer corruption allegations.

Bin Hammam and Warner were targeted after Chuck Blazer, general secretary of regional footballing body CONCACAF, reported possible misdeeds during a May 10 and 11 meeting in Trinidad.

British media reports said Bin Hammam and Warner are accused of offering $40,000 cash gifts to national associations at the Trinidad conference in return for their votes in next week's presidential election.

FIFA's statement on Friday said Blatter had been summoned to appear before the ethics committee to answer claims that Warner had told him in advance of alleged payments made at the meeting.

Blatter issued only a brief statement on Friday following FIFA's announcement.

"I cannot comment on the proceedings that have been opened against me today. The facts will speak for themselves," the Swiss powerbroker said.

A statement issued by Bin Hammam's office later Friday said attempts to discredit the Qatari were a "tawdry manoeuvre" that showed "increasing evidence of a conspiracy".

"After having analysed and answered the accusations of bribery made against Mohamed Bin Hammam, it seems obvious that they are without substance," it said.

"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 (at the CFU meeting).

"Mr. Bin Hammam reiterates that any allegations about him trying to buy votes are completely false."

The statement added: "It is obvious that these allegations have been made to discredit Mr. Bin Hammam as a candidate in the imminent election for the FIFA presidency.

"Mr. Bin Hammam expects FIFA's Ethics Committee to see through this tawdry manoeuvre."

Blatter has denied suggestions from Bin Hammam that he had orchestrated the charges against the man seeking to unseat him, dismissing them as "ludicrous".

The civil war which has erupted within FIFA's echelons follows weeks of corruption allegations involving the organisation's officials.

FIFA opened a separate inquiry after accusations made in the British parliament regarding the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.

Former English Football Association chairman David Triesman told a committee he had witnessed "improper and unethical" behaviour by four FIFA voters -- including Warner -- while campaigning for England's failed 2018 World Cup bid.

On Monday, Qatar denied claims aired in the committee that it paid large bribes to secure its shock victory in the battle to host the 2022 tournament. Bin Hammam, who was instrumental in the bid, has also rejected the allegations.

As the controversy engulfed world football, UEFA president Michel Platini admitted the game needs cleaning up.

"Football is the most beautiful and popular game in the world and we have to resolve these problems," he told Sky Sports.

British Sports Minister Hugh Robertson called for the FIFA election to be suspended claiming the campaign had been turned into "a farce".

"With both of the candidates having allegations of corruption aimed at them the election should be suspended," Robertson said.

He added that FIFA should follow the International Olympic Committee who brought in new rules after the Salt Lake City bribery scandal in 1999.

"Sports governing bodies have to be transparent and accountable and change has to happen for the good of world football," he said.

"FIFA needs to urgently reform in the way that the IOC did after Salt Lake City."

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