Blatter denies involvement in graft probe

By Sheila Norman-Culp

Zurich - Fifa president Sepp Blatter said on Friday he has no link to the corruption investigation surrounding the collapse of the world soccer body's former marketing partner.

"I have never, ever in my life taken money from anybody except from the people for whom I have worked," Blatter said following Fifa's executive committee meetings.

He reacted angrily when a reporter asked if he had ever received illegal payments from ISL/ISMM, which went bankrupt in 2001.

"This, of course, is a veiled accusation and this is something I will not accept in a press conference," Blatter said.

The ISL/ISMM group's bankruptcy plunged Zurich-based Fifa into a financial crisis and sparked accusations of corruption and mismanagement by senior officials.

Earlier this month, a Swiss prosecutor charged unidentified individuals in connection with the collapse of ISL/ISMM, which specialised in TV and sponsorship deals and had owned the television and marketing rights to the 2002 and 2006 World Cups.

"The court case now is not against Fifa," Blatter said. "On the contrary, Fifa initiated this trial and the attorney is now saying quite clearly in his declarations that no officers, nor any staff of Fifa of yesterday, today or tomorrow are being accused."

The charges against those allegedly responsible for the demise of the ISL/ISMM group include embezzlement, fraud, fraudulent bankruptcy, damaging creditors and falsification of documents.

The Swiss weekly SonntagsZeitung reported last month that an unidentified Fifa official repaid 2.5 million Swiss Francs ($2-million) in bribes money to the insolvent estate of ISL/ISSM.

Marc von Dach, prosecutor for the Swiss canton (state), said the indictment solely concerned employees at ISL or its parent group ISMM.

Zug authorities began their investigation in 2001 on the basis of a complaint by Fifa against the company. Fifa said in 2004 it was no longer interested in pursuing a criminal complaint, but Zug investigating magistrate Thomas Hildbrand continued because he said his investigation in five countries had found evidence of numerous financial crimes.

In other matters, Fifa revealed for the first time that it had demanded Fifa vice president Jack Warner's son pay Fifa $1-million for SOS Children's Villages in repayment for selling thousands of tickets at inflated prices for 2006's World Cup.

Fifa was unable to sanction Warner's son, Daryan, because he was employed outside Fifa. Daryan allegedly sold the tickets through the Trinidad and Tobago travel agency Simpaul, which was owned by Warner's family.

Blatter said Fifa had received a first payment from Simpaul of $250 000 and was waiting for the rest. - Sapa-AP

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