South Africa denies paying bribes to secure World Cup

South African Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula at the Parliament in Cape Town, South Africa, on March 17, 2016.
South African Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula at the Parliament in Cape Town, South Africa, on March 17, 2016. PHOTO: EPA

CAPE TOWN • South Africa's sports minister has denied that bribes were paid to win the right to host the 2010 World Cup, as Fifa seeks to claw back money from officials facing graft charges in the United States.

Football's world governing body this week issued a wide-ranging acknowledgement of what it called "brazen corruption" in a demand for "victim restitution" made to the US authorities.

The claim to the US Attorney's office in New York said a US$10 million (S$13.6 million) bribe was paid from South Africa to get votes for the country's World Cup bid.

It stated that South African officials "offered a more attractive bribe" than their only rivals Morocco to three senior Fifa executives for their votes in the 2004 election. South Africa won the vote 14-10.

Fifa's legal document added : "It is now apparent that multiple members of Fifa's executive committee abused their positions and sold their votes on multiple occasions."

The legal notice is part of a Fifa claim for a pot of more than £135 million (S$262 million) that has been forfeited to the US courts by some of the 41 officials who have been indicted for corruption.

The submission names Jack Warner from Trinidad and the United States' Chuck Blazer as having received the bribes from South Africa. The third was understood to be Costa Rica's Isaac Sasso Sasso, who died in 2011.

"South Africa did not pay a bribe, nor did it conspire to illegally obtain the rights to host the 2010 Fifa World Cup," South Africa's Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula said in Cape Town yesterday.

The South African government and national football officials have repeatedly denied accusations that they paid the money to secure the right to host the first such tournament on the continent.

The authorities insist the US$10 million payment was an honest donation to support football among the "African diaspora" in the Caribbean.

"The matter was above board and was approved by Fifa," Mr Mbalula said. "It is now ludicrous and insane for anyone to seek to cast an aspersion on our country by suggesting that we were part of syndicate to defraud.

However, Fifa's admission that bribes were paid to secure the 2010 World Cup hosting rights, has led to Clive Efford, Britain's shadow sports minister, pointing out that it is a further reason to review the controversial voting process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, awarded to Russia and Qatar respectively in 2010.

Fifa has said there is no evidence to justify re-running the vote.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE TIMES, LONDON

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 18, 2016, with the headline 'South Africa denies paying bribes to secure World Cup'. Print Edition | Subscribe