KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING: FIFA reformer Mark Pieth is on a collision course with Sepp Blatter, the president who hired him in summer 2011, after an explosive outburst at the obstructions laid in his path.
The Basel governance professor, in today’s edition of the SueddeutscheZeitung, pulled no punches in defiance of a warning from Blatter that reform commission members should not go public with any criticisms which might undermine the credibility of the process.
Pieth, interviewed by Claudio Catuogno, Thomas Kistner and Klaus Ott, attacked – among others:
— European federation UEFA for blocking key reform proposals;
— the manner of the ethics committee’s final despatch of Mohamed Bin Hammam; and
— confusion over the handling of the ISL scandal.
Pieth also railed at the way his four nominations for the role of ethics prosecutor had been blocked, one by one.
First choice Luis Moreno Ocampo had been vetoed by FIFA’s senior vice-president Julio Grondona in league with Argentina’s state President, Cristina Kirchner.
No to Akers
Two further choices, including Scotland Yard commander Sue Akers, were blocked because senior exco members refused to be policed by a woman.
In the end American Michael Garcia was appointed on the recommendation of Ronald Noble, head of Interpol, which had just benefited a year earlier from the launch of a €20m, 10-year anti-corruption investment from FIFA.
Pieth warned that, if unspecified key proposals were rejected, he would walk away from the reform process.
This would be a significant PR blow to Blatter but the exco might consider it an empty threat since the core of Pieth’s work has been completed; managing the final stage of reform has been entrusted to one of Europe’s own FIFA exco heavyweights, German Theo Zwanziger.
Pieth acknowledged that the first phase of the reform process had been completed with the creation last year of the upgraded, two-chamber ethics commission and a strengthened Code of Ethics.
However, challenging recent comments by Blatter that only a few details remained under discussion, Pieth said: “Now we are at Phase Two – and this means it’s now all or nothing because FIFA is in danger of wasting another 10 years.”
Bin Hammam exit
Moving on to specific issues, Pieth began with last December’s decision by former Asian president Mohamed Bin Hammam – Blatter’s would-be presidential rival in 2011 – to stop fighting to clear his name over misuse of funds allegations.
Blatter, it is thought, had suggested via the Emir of Qatar that Bin Hammam’s surrender would ease ongoing querying of the Gulf state’s right to host the 2022 World Cup. Bin Hammam did walk away but then considered he had been stabbed in the back when FIFA’s ethics commission hit him with a life ban anyway for “conflict of interests.”
Pieth was not impressed. Bin Hammam’s exit, he said, was the outcome of “a deal” which, by policing standards, “violated all principles of criminal procedure.” Ideally, the entire process should have been allowed to run its course.
Next Pieth turned to the long-running ISL scandal and a statement last month that chief investigator Michael Garcia had reviewed the case and would put his report to the executive committee, apparently without reference to German ethics judge Joachim Eckert.
The statutes of the Ethics Code indicated that Garcia had thus decided no action could or should be taken against any individuals implicated directly or indirectly.
Pieth said both he and Eckert were puzzled. Garcia could not change the rules all by himself; perhaps, his intentions had not been expressed clearly. On the face of it Garcia’s proposal was contrary to procedure as defined in the Code of Ethics.
Then Pieth explained how Garcia, never his choice, had been appointed to the crucial role of ethics prosecutor.
“Garcia was not on our list,” said Pieth. “His name only came up later on the recommendation of the international law enforcement agency (Interpol).” Pieth confirmed he meant Noble, the secretary-general of Interpol, a regular speaker and guest at anti-corruption conferences.
Pieth added: “I was very upset because politics got in the way of my own preference. We had two lists of four people. To chair the tribunal we had [Australian Judge] Barry O’Keefe at No1 but then he was taken ill; it was no problem for me to switch to [German] Joachim Eckert.
“As for chief investigator Luis Moreno Ocampo was our No1. International criminal investigation is his world as former chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Court.”
Asked to specify the problem with Moreno Ocampo, Pieth answered: “Julio Grondona.”
A fellow Argentinian, Grondona is FIFA’s senior vice-president, chairman of the finance committee and has been on the exco since 1988. He has just been re-elected by the AFA of which he has been president since 1979.
After Grondona’s veto, Pieth added: “Straightaway the President of Argentina, Mrs Kirchner – who should have had nothing to do with the matter – said she would not approve of Ocampo.”
Pieth then delved into FIFA’s murky past – and the 24-year reign of Blatter’s presidential predecessor Joao Havelange – by saying: “There’s more. If you look back at people who have been on the FIFA exco, many were in league with former dictators.
“The great strength of Ocampo was that, before he went to The Hague, he brought to court the dictators of Argentina who had unleashed the Falklands War. His background is the struggle against fascist dictators.
“If you take Grondona, or [CONMEBOL/South American president] Nicolas Leoz from Paraguay, and consider that region’s record with dictators such as Stroessner and Banzer, you can piece together the rest. I won’t say anything else or I will get into trouble.”
Pieth’s next two preferences had been both women – one of them Akers – but “the old men in FIFA” refused to consider them precisely because they were women.
Noble had then suggested Garcia, a New York prosecutor who had been a former vice-president for the Americas and executive committee member of Interpol.
Pieth said he made clear his feelings at seeing his nominations rejected particularly bearing in mind that “one was turned down because he fought fascists . . . and the sexism which barred the women.” FIFA exco members, he complained, “live 20 years in the past.”
His priority now was to ensure a transparent structure within FIFA. He would prefer the support of Swiss law but this was impossible because “they are worried that the international sports federations will all go somewhere else.”
Pieth then moved on to the blocks erected on the roadmap to reform by Michel Platini’s European federation, UEFA.
“It is very, very clear,” said Pieth, “that it is precisely the representatives of Europe who are saying they do not need any reform.”
He used, as an example, UEFA’s recent insistence that none of its delegates should be checked out by the new FIFA audit and compliance committee. Pieth responded: “If UEFA says No then, of course, Africa, the Caribbean and South America will do the same . . . and FIFA should always have the right to refuse to accept a particular individual.”
Pieth continued: “Another topic: term limits. We said: the president should serve only a maximum of eight years. Now UEFA proposes 12 years. OK, that can be discussed. But for exco members they do not want any term restriction. And then I read headlines like: ‘UEFA wants more reform.” On the contrary – it’s Europe, UEFA, which is pulling the reforms apart.”
Winding up as merely a pawn in a battle between Platini and Blatter did not appeal to Pieth one little bit. He acknowledged: “It’s certainly a danger . . . on the other hand, I can always say, if there’s no progress: ‘Goodbye FIFA.’”
This was when Pieth talked of his ‘minimum requirements.’ These included full disclosure of personal salaries, bonuses and expenses (including the president and exco members), a limit on terms of office and a ‘fit and proper person’ check.
Finally, it was suggested to Pieth that Blatter – despite his protestations – might yet be considering a fifth term of office.
Pieth said: “Blatter should be happy just to get the reform process sorted; this is the journey we are on together. As for the rest, that’s up to him.”
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** The original interview may be accessed online in the sports section of the SueddeutscheZeitung at: http://www.sueddeutsche.de/
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