FIFA on Wednesday said it had fired Sepp Blatter’s former right-hand man, Jerome Valcke, the latest casualty in a multi-layered scandal that has brought down the most powerful figures in world football. Valcke was FIFA’s general secretary for nearly a decade, working alongside the body’s then-president Blatter, who has been banned for eight years over an ethics violation.
Valcke, 55, was himself facing a possible nine-year ban sought by FIFA investigators over his alleged role in a scheme to sell 2014 World Cup tickets on the black market. In a statement, FIFA said his employment contract had been “terminated”, even before a verdict in the ticket case was decided. “The FIFA emergency committee decided, on 9 January 2016, to dismiss Jerome Valcke from the position of FIFA secretary general with immediate effect,” the statement said.
Valcke’s US-based lawyer Barry Berke said his client “remains confident that he will be fully vindicated and history will recognise all of his contributions to the sport he loves”. “(He) is proud of all that was accomplished for the game of football during his long tenure as Secretary General,” Berke added in an email sent to AFP. FIFA said that Markus Kattner will continue to serve as acting general secretary, the body’s number two post.
Later Wednesday, former FIFA vice-president Alfredo Hawit pleaded not guilty to corruption charges in a New York court just hours after being extradited from Switzerland. US prosecutors allege that 64-year-old Honduran Hawit accepted and laundered hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes as general secretary of the Honduran federation between 2008 and 2014.
Hawit entered a plea of not guilty through his lawyer. The defendant looked pale and ill, and stood slightly stooped in the federal court in Brooklyn, following the proceedings through a court-appointed interpreter. The Honduran will appear in court again on Thursday where conditions for bail will be discussed.
He is the fifth FIFA official extradited by Switzerland to the United States in connection with the multi-million-dollar corruption scandal that has rocked world football since May last year. FIFA first suspended Valcke on September 17, when ethics committee investigators began probing the ticketing scheme. The suspension was renewed on January 6.
Investigators wrapped up that inquiry last week and called for a fine of 100,000 Swiss francs ($99,000, 92,000 euros), along with the lengthy ban. Valcke has also been linked to a $10 million payment made by South Africa to corruption-tainted former Caribbean football chief Jack Warner. US investigators reportedly believe this was a bribe to secure votes for the 2010 World Cup. But Valcke had been a controversial figure even before he was tipped as general secretary.
While serving as FIFA’s marketing director in 2006, the Frenchman was sacked over a battle with credit card sponsors Mastercard. Valcke negotiated a deal with Visa that excluded long-time sponsors Mastercard, who had a first-option deal that was not respected, and FIFA later had to pay $90 million in compensation. A New York judge said Valcke had lied to both companies. He was sacked as marketing director, but after the compensation deal, Blatter reappointed him as his deputy.
Blatter was banned by FIFA judges last month over a two million Swiss francs ($2 million, 1.8 million euros) payment to FIFA vice president Michel Platini, also the president of UEFA. Platini, once Blatter’s heir apparent, has likewise been banished for eight years. Swiss prosecutors have opened a criminal case targeting Blatter over the payment, and Valcke’s emails have been turned over to investigators in Bern as evidence in the case.
Switzerland is also investigating the attribution of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar respectively. The US justice department has charged 39 people and two companies with tens of millions of dollars worth of graft and bribery going back decades. With the organisation currently being led by acting president Issa Hayatou — a 69-year-old Cameroonian who has also been linked to corruption — momentum is building towards a February 26 election where a new president will be chosen.
After Platini’s downfall, the race between five candidates is thought to be wide open. They are Asian football head Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim al-Khalifa of Bahrain, South African politician and tycoon Tokyo Sexwale, former FIFA vice president Prince Ali bin al-Hussein of Jordan, UEFA general secretary Gianni Infantino and Jerome Champagne, a former FIFA assistant general secretary from France.