ZURICH • Fifa reeled from a fresh scandal on Thursday as secretary general Jerome Valcke was dramatically suspended over allegations of involvement in a ticketing scam and placed under investigation.
Valcke, the right-hand man of outgoing Fifa president Sepp Blatter, was immediately relieved of his duties. It came just a week after he attempted to secure a seven-figure payoff from world football's governing body.
The 54-year-old Frenchman "has been put on leave and released from his duties effective immediately until further notice", said a statement from Fifa.
"Further, Fifa has been made aware of a series of allegations involving the secretary general and has requested a formal investigation by the Fifa Ethics Committee."
The claims were made by Benny Alon, an American-Israeli consultant at a company which had a deal with Fifa to sell tickets at the World Cup last year.
The contract was subsequently cancelled and he never paid Valcke.
Alon said he was working at ticketing firm JB Sports Marketing in 2013 when he discussed with Valcke the allocation of tickets with better views of the field for the showpiece event.
Alon added that he informally agreed to split revenues 50-50 with Valcke from the re-sale of the tickets in a deal that could have netted the football official more than US$2 million (S$2.8 million).
While Alon provided e-mail to the media which he said backed up his claims, the documents were incomplete and could not be independently verified.
In a strongly-worded statement issued by Valcke's US-based attorney, the official decried the allegations as false.
"Jerome Valcke unequivocally denies the fabricated and outrageous accusations by Benny Alon of alleged wrongdoing in connection with the sale of World Cup tickets," the statement from New York attorney Barry Berke said.
Two sources familiar with the matter said Alon's claims were the immediate cause of Valcke being placed on leave.
The sources added, though, that questions over Valcke had been mounting since May and could have contributed to the decision.
US prosecutors believe Valcke was involved in 2007 in bank transactions worth US$10 million.
The South African government had approved the money to be used to support the African diaspora in Caribbean countries, a person familiar with the matter revealed.
Prosecutors said the payments were aimed at winning votes for South Africa to host the 2010 World Cup. Valcke confirmed he signed off on the payments but has denied any wrongdoing.
The transactions are central to a US bribery investigation into Fifa.
The latter has been embroiled in a major corruption scandal since the arrest of seven of its officials in May. They are among 14 people charged by the American authorities over more than US$150 million in bribes given for television and marketing deals.
In the fallout from the scandal, Blatter announced that he is standing down in February. Valcke had already suggested he would probably go at that time as well.
But according to the Press Association, Valcke has been plotting an early exit.
With three years left on his contract, he wanted to be paid out in full for the remainder of the deal but was unsuccessful in negotiations.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS