SUNDAY TIMES - Mbeki struck $10m deal with Blatter
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Sunday Times Investigations By THANDUXOLO JIKA, SABELO SKITI, ANDRÉ JURGENS, STEPHAN HOFSTATTER and PIET RAMPEDI, 2015-06-07

Mbeki struck $10m deal with Blatter

FIFA president Sepp Blatter met president Thabo Mbeki at presidential guesthouse in Pretoria on 14 September 2008.
Image: Puxley Makgatho The Times

A damning paper trail shows that the controversial $10-million "bribe" that allegedly secured South Africa the 2010 World Cup was negotiated between then-president Thabo Mbeki and Sepp Blatter, Fifa's disgraced boss who quit under a cloud this week.

Three letters over the course of four months show that the government was well aware of the payment that Chuck Blazer, a former Fifa executive, said was a bribe to select "South Africa as the host nation of the 2010 World Cup", but which the government claims was a "legitimate" payment to support soccer in the Caribbean.

New documents prove that authority for this payment stretched right to the top.

The Sunday Times is in possession of an e-mail sent by Fifa's general secretary, Jérôme Valcke, to former deputy finance minister Jabu Moleketi on December 7 2007, pre-dating the other two letters that recently emerged.

Valcke writes to Moleketi asking "when the transfer can be done" of money discussed in an earlier letter in September, which included the "commitment of $10-million to the legacy programme for the diaspora and specifically the Caribbean countries".

Writes Valcke: "This is based on discussions between Fifa and the South African government, and also between our President [Blatter] and President Thabo Mbeki."

Three days later, on December 10, Danny Jordaan, the CEO of South Africa's 2010 World Cup organising committee, writes to Valcke confirming this deal, saying Moleketi "has recommended that this money be paid over to Fifa". Says Jordaan: "I want to suggest that Fifa deducts this amount, $10-million, from the local organising committee's future operational budget and deals directly with the diaspora legacy support programme."

The money was then paid in three tranches between January 2 and March 7 2008 - payments dubbed a "bribe" by US attorney-general Loretta Lynch in the indictment used to arrest several Fifa officials last week.

While the US authorities believe this was a bribe, Mbeki apparently believed it to be an honest payment. In 2011, he referred to funds being "made available to Trinidad and Tobago to develop soccer in the Caribbean as part of the African diaspora".

Mbeki could not be reached this week, but previously maintained that he was "not aware of anybody who solicited a bribe" for a 2010 World Cup vote.

The letter that emerged last week, written by former South African Football Association boss Molefi Oliphant to Valcke on March 4 2008, says the money "shall be administered and implemented directly" by Jack Warner, the president of the Caribbean association Concacaf.

Fifa then paid the $10-million into accounts controlled directly by Warner at the Republic Bank in Trinidad and Tobago. The US indictment says Warner diverted a "substantial portion" of the money "for his personal use".

About $200000 went into his personal loan account and $1.4-million was allegedly laundered via a Trinidad and Tobagon businessman, the owner of a supermarket chain in the country.

Weeks later, cheques for $1.4-million were drawn on an account belonging to a real estate company owned by the same businessman, and deposited into an account held by Warner and his family.

Mbeki could not be reached through his spokesman.

Moleketi told this newspaper: "I reject what you [are] saying to me in the strongest terms.

"In my time as a member of parliament and the executive of South Africa, I have never been party to any decisions that led to the bribing of foreign nationals."

This week, the government scrambled to do damage control as those implicated in the scandal turned on each other.

Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula said Mbeki had spoken about the payment in 2011, and the only thing that was new was "the charge by US authorities that this was a bribe".

Yesterday, Mbalula told the Sunday Times that he had been aware of the correspondence a long time ago, insisting that there was no evidence that any payments amounted to bribes.

"Even the letter between Jérôme Valcke and the LOC and the ones he wrote to government. I know about them," he said.

But as documents drip-fed into the public domain, tensions between South Africa's soccer bosses bubbled over in a series of meetings behind closed doors.

The South African delegation of Irvin Khoza, Danny Jordaan and Nelson Mandela, with Fifa president Sepp Blatter and Molefi Oliphant show the name of South Africa at the announcement that the country would host the 2010 Soccer World Cup, during an official ceremony in Zurich, Switzerland, on May 15 2004. File photo. Image: EPA EDDY RISCH

Crisis meetings were held this week between Mbalula, Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe and World Cup organising committee members Jordaan, Irvin Khoza and Oliphant.

Oliphant told the Sunday Times that he had lost his cool with Jordaan at one of those meetings over the fact that the first letter to emerge was one signed by Oliphant - rather than an earlier letter signed by Jordaan.

"I briefed them about [the March 2008 letter I signed] because the minister wanted to know what is going on. But, shockingly, Danny did not in any of the meetings disclose that he had in fact written a letter in December 2007 to Fifa," said Oliphant.

At a meeting on Tuesday night to prepare for Mbalula's press conference the next day, Oliphant accused Jordaan of leaking the letter to the press. The next day, Mbalula arrived to face the media alone after the soccer bosses pulled out.

Oliphant said: "I strongly believe [I have been] betrayed by Jordaan."

Some former LOC members, who asked not to be named as Mbalula had effectively forbidden them to speak to the media, described this as a "serious crisis".

Said one: "The question is, who gave them the mandate to give our money to Concacaf, which is not our affiliate?"

While the government steadfastly denied that this payment was a "bribe", the payment itself appears to be a breach of Safa's constitution, which limits its commitments to South Africa and Safa affiliates.

Safa finally broke its silence on the scandal late last night. In a lengthy statement, it said it was considering its legal options over the bribery claims.

“To be sure, it was the South African Football Association, after consultation with the South African government, who requested that Fifa make this grant to the Concacaf confederation — long after the bid was won — to support football development in the Caribbean.

“That the money may have been siphoned off by individuals after it was donated does not make the donor complicit or a co-conspirator as it has been so vigorously described in the public domain.”

'ANC knows FBI wants Jordaan'

Jordaan has gone to ground as speculation mounts that he cancelled his trip to Zurich a week earlier to avoid arrest by the FBI.

Last week, Jordaan was scheduled to travel to Switzerland to cast his vote on who would be Fifa's new president, a vote that was won by Sepp Blatter, who resigned four days later.

But, at the last minute, Jordaan cancelled his trip to Zurich.

He told the Sunday Times last week that senior government ministers and high-ranking ANC officials had advised him not to go for "political reasons".

Contacted this week, however, Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula and Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe said they knew of no such instruction. Mbalula said: "I don't know that. Whoever said that is confused ... Danny and I speak almost every day, ask him what I said."

Radebe, through his spokesman, also denied personally advising Jordaan to stay in South Africa.

Two sources, one in the ANC and one in government, said this week that Jordaan had been advised - indirectly by Blatter - that he faced possible arrest had he gone to Fifa's meeting. Seven Fifa executives were arrested in Zurich by the FBI two days before the Fifa congress.

Officially, however, the ANC refused to comment on whether it had instructed Jordaan not to travel to Zurich.

But one insider told the Sunday Times: "The ANC is aware that the FBI wants to arrest Danny ... I don't know who tipped off Danny, but the Americans want him."

Jordaan did not respond to requests for comments this week.

Last week, however, Jordaan said: "Nobody told me I'm conspirator whatever number. No one spoke to me."

Fifa's media office denied advising Jordaan against travelling to Zurich.

"It was the other way around. He called us and apologised. He told us that he had other commitments as mayor of ... Nelson Mandela Bay," a spokeswoman said on Friday.

jikat@sundaytimes.co.za, skitis@sundaytimes.co.za, jurgensa@sundaytimes.co.za, investigations@sundaytimes.co.za