Fifa President Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

Chris Green and Tom Peck in Zurich follow the lurid events that have rocked football, but seem not to have fazed the man at the top

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The Independent Online

Sepp Blatter has warned his opponents that he would never forget the campaign of “hate” they had orchestrated against him, as United States tax authorities revealed that further corruption charges are expected.

The defiant Fifa president, who was re-elected on 29 May, claimed that the “English media” and US authorities had joined together to target him because the two countries were bitter at losing their bids to host the World Cup in 2018 and in 2022.

Asked whether he forgave the Uefa president, Michel Platini, who personally asked him to resign over the corruption scandal which has engulfed world football’s governing body, and who urged Fifa members to vote against him, Mr Blatter replied: “I forgive everyone but I don’t forget.”

The corruption allegations prompted the unusual public intervention of Prince William, who as a member of the Royal Family rarely speaks on controversial current events, but who praised an FA executive for taking a stand against Mr Blatter’s Fifa regime.

Mr Blatter, 79, has refused to step down despite the arrest of nine serving or former Fifa officials, who have been charged with accepting bribes and kickbacks totalling hundreds of millions of dollars. The allegations have plunged football’s governing body into the biggest crisis in its history.

Richard Weber, head of the US Internal Revenue Service’s criminal investigations unit, hinted that more charges were expected but did not elaborate on whether Mr Blatter’s name would appear on the list of targets.

“I’m fairly confident that we will have another round of indictments,” Mr Weber told The New York Times. He added that the US had not been targeting Fifa specifically, as Mr Blatter suggested, but had simply followed a trail of wrongdoing. “We were going after corruption. One thing led to another, led to another and another,” he said.

Appearing in front of the media, Mr Blatter denied that he was the “high-ranking Fifa official” who according to the US indictment sanctioned a payment of $10m to Jack Warner, the former Concacaf president, in 2008. The money was allegedly offered by South Africa in an attempt to secure the right to host the 2010 World Cup.

“Definitely that’s not me,” he said. “This is a problem I do not enter. We will not go further. The only thing I can say is I have no 10 million dollars.”

Asked whether he feared being arrested in connection with the US corruption investigation, a visibly irritated Mr Blatter replied: “Arrested for what? Next question.”

Fifa is fighting corruption allegations on two fronts, as claims of “irregularities” in the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar are also being investigated by Swiss police, amid suspicions of “criminal mismanagement” and money laundering.

Uefa, European football’s governing body, previously warned that its members may choose to boycott the tournament in Russia if Mr Blatter was re-elected. The move is set to be discussed at a meeting ahead of Saturday’s Champions League final in Berlin.

Mr Blatter, who also announced there would be no changes to the allocation of World Cup places for the tournaments in Russia in 2018 and Qatar in 2022, said he planned to make a “personal visit” to Fifa’s sponsors to reassure them that the organisation would be able to weather the corruption storm. “Change will start tomorrow,” he promised.

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Sepp Blatter has questioned the timing of the Fifa corruption arrests

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Sepp Blatter will serve a fifth term as Fifa president

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Sepp Blatter will serve a fifth term as Fifa president after winning the election

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Sepp Blatter celebrates victory in the Fifa presidency vote

During his opening remarks, Mr Blatter questioned why “three American journalists” had been waiting outside the luxury hotel in Zurich where seven Fifa officials were arrested on Wednesday morning.

Earlier he told Swiss TV station RTS: “No one is going to tell me that it was a simple coincidence this American attack two days before the elections of Fifa. It doesn’t smell right …. If they have a financial crime that regards American citizens, then they must arrest these people there and not in Zurich.

“There are signs that cannot be ignored. The Americans were the candidates for the World Cup of 2022 and they lost. The Engl ish were the candidates for 2018 and they lost, so it was really the English media and the American movement.”     

Mr Blatter also criticised Football Association vice-chairman David Gill, who has refused to take up his post on Fifa’s executive board while the Swiss is still in charge, for boycotting its first meeting. “If you are elected you have to come, whoever is president of Fifa,” he said.

Mr Gill said in a statement: “This action is not something I take lightly, but the terribly damaging events of the last three days have convinced me it is not appropriate to be a member of the Fifa executive committee under the current leadership. My professional reputation is critical to me and I simply do not see how there will be change for the good of world football while Mr Blatter remains in post.”

Prince William, the FA President, intervened in the row to praise Mr Gill for leading “by example” in refusing to take up his position on Fifa’s executive committee.

“There seems to be huge disconnect between the sense of fair play that guides those playing and supporting the game, and the allegations of corruption that have long lingered around the management of the sport internationally,” he said.

“Fifa must now show that it can represent the interests of fair play and put the sport first. Those backing Fifa, such as sponsors and the regional confederations, must do their bit to press these reforms – we are doing football and its fans no favours if we do not.”

Mr Blatter claimed Fifa’s executive committee had “reaffirmed its unity and its solidarity” in the wake of the corruption scandal – despite the fact that two of its members, Jeffrey Webb and Eduardo Li, are being held in custody over the US charges.

One new member is the Tunisian Football Federation chief, Tarek Bouchamaoui, a close ally of the country’s former president Ben Ali, whose 2011 overthrow sparked the Arab Spring uprisings. Mr Bouchamaoui was also recently named in connection with tax evasion schemes organised by HSBC’s private bank in Switzerland – but he has not been charged with any offences and has been allowed to join the Fifa committee.

Mr Blatter blamed the situation on Uefa, which has blocked Fifa from controlling who joins the committee, leaving decisions in the hands of regional confederations.

The Football Association chairman, Greg Dyke, who previously backed the idea of a co-ordinated European boycott of the World Cup, said Mr Blatter had been given a “bloody nose” by the events of the past few days, adding that he would be “very surprised” if he was still in the job in two years’ time.

One of Mr Blatter’s few supporters is the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, who wrote to congratulate him on his re-election. “Over the 17 years that you have stood at the head of Fifa, you have acquired great respect among fans, coaches and players,” he wrote. “Your experience and organisational talent, and your efforts aimed at consistently expanding football’s geography will serve to further develop and increase the popularity of this ‘number one sport’ that unites millions of fans all over the world.”

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