Former SAfrican president issues denial in WCup bid scandal

Jun 1, 2015, 9:31 AM

Phila Mombombo, a South African Kaizer Chiefs soccer club supporter, and World Cup Soccer supporter...

Phila Mombombo, a South African Kaizer Chiefs soccer club supporter, and World Cup Soccer supporter holds a newspaper headlining recent bribery allegations against local soccer officials, at his home in Khayelitsha, South Africa, Thursday, May 28, 2015. The image of South Africa's 2010 World Cup has been shattered by allegations that its bid over a decade ago was involved in bribes of more than $10 million to secure FIFA votes _ possibly with the knowledge or involvement of the South African government. (AP Photo/Schalk van Zuydam)

(AP Photo/Schalk van Zuydam)

CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) — Former South African President Thabo Mbeki denied his government paid bribes to secure the 2010 World Cup as the bid scandal began to encroach on the very top of the country’s leadership on Monday.

“I wish to state that the government that I had the privilege to lead would never have paid any bribe even if it were solicited,” Mbeki said in a statement from his office.

Mbeki was president at the time of South Africa’s successful bid in 2004.

His denial came as South African soccer head and former 2010 bid leader Danny Jordaan reportedly told a newspaper that $10 million was paid to former FIFA vice president Jack Warner’s regional confederation in 2008.

According to the Sunday Independent newspaper, Jordaan denied that money — referred to in the U.S. Department of Justice’s indictment into corruption in FIFA — was a bribe from South Africa via FIFA for Warner’s backing.

Instead, Jordaan said it was to help Warner — implicated in a series of corruption allegations in the DOJ investigation into FIFA — with soccer development in his region, the newspaper reported.

Mbeki, who succeeded Nelson Mandela as president, said that his government did not make any improper payments surrounding South Africa’s success in securing the first World Cup in Africa.

“I am not aware of anybody who solicited a bribe from the government for the purpose of our country being awarded the right to host the World Cup,” Mbeki said.

South African sports minister Fikile Mbalula also stood by his denial that the government had any knowledge or involvement in bribes — and appeared to distance the current government from Jordaan’s comments.

The Department of Justice said in indictments unsealed last week that two senior South African bid officials made or were aware of bribes for Warner, and the money eventually came from FIFA after the South African government failed to come up with the cash.

According to the weekend newspaper report, Jordaan claimed the $10 million payment to Warner’s CONCACAF in 2008 was a contribution toward their “development fund” and was taken off a payment of $100 million from FIFA to South Africa to help prepare for the World Cup.

Yet at the time, South Africa was about to embark on the most costly and important soccer event in the nation’s history. Jordaan denied the payment was a bribe.

“I haven’t paid a bribe or taken a bribe from anybody in my life,” Jordaan said, according to the newspaper. “We don’t know who is mentioned there (in the DOJ indictment). And I don’t want to assume that I am mentioned.”

The DOJ says the $10 million ultimately went to Warner from a FIFA account in Switzerland and was payment for him and another two former FIFA executive committee members for voting for South Africa in the May 2004 election in Zurich.

Jordaan’s newspaper comments were the first by a top South African soccer official after the government last week ordered people involved in the 2010 bid to “desist” from making public statements as the allegations emerged as part of the DOJ’s FIFA investigation.

Jordaan did not respond to numerous phone calls Monday from The Associated Press, and the South African Football Association also didn’t respond to phone calls and emails seeking clarification if Jordaan made a late decision not to travel to Zurich for last week’s FIFA congress.

Mbalula, the sports minister, repeated the current government’s denial over any bribes, but also wrote on his official Twitter account: “We must never b(e) afraid to face the truth even from our worst enemies.”

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


              Young boys play soccer on a dusty field in Thokoza township east of Johannesburg, South Africa, Thusday, May 28, 2015. When South Africa won the right to host Africa's first World Cup, it was seen as a heartwarming reward for Nelson Mandela and a country that had shaken off decades of apartheid. Today, the picture seems very different. The image of South Africa's World Cup in 2010 has been shattered by allegations that its bid over a decade ago was involved in bribes of more than $10 million to secure FIFA votes — possibly with the knowledge or involvement of the South African government. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)
            
              A young boy controls the ball while playing soccer with others,  on a dusty field in Thokoza township east of Johannesburg, South Africa, Thursday, May 28, 2015. The image of South Africa’s 2010 World Cup has been shattered by allegations that its bid over a decade ago was involved in bribes of more than $10 million to secure FIFA votes - possibly with the knowledge or involvement of the South African government.  (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)
            
              FILE - In this May 15, 2004 file photo, former South African President Nelson Mandela is assisted by FIFA president Sepp Blatter, left, in Zurich, Switzerland, where it was announced that South Africa would host the 2010 FIFA World Cup soccer tournament. The country's image has been shattered with allegations that its bid over a decade ago was involved in millions of dollars in bribes to secure FIFA votes and make sure of its historic place as Africa's first World Cup host. (AP Photo/Michael Probst, File)
            
              A man passes the entrance used by fans at the Cape Town Soccer stadium that hosted some games during the 2010 World Cup in Cape Town, South Africa, Thursday, May 28, 2015. The image of South Africa’s 2010 World Cup has been shattered by allegations that its bid over a decade ago was involved in bribes of more than $10 million to secure FIFA votes possibly with the knowledge or involvement of the South African government. (AP Photo/Schalk van Zuydam)
            
              FILE - In this May 15, 2004 file photo, former South African President Nelson Mandela lifts the World Cup trophy in Zurich, Switzerland, after FIFA's executive committee announced that South Africa would host the 2010 FIFA World Cup soccer tournament. The country's image has been shattered with allegations that its bid over a decade ago was involved in millions of dollars in bribes to secure FIFA votes and make sure of its historic place as Africa's first World Cup host. (AP Photo/Michael Probst, File)
            
              A soccer ball with different colored flags, including the South African national flag, right, painted on a wall in the township of Khayelitsha, South Africa, Thursday, May 28, 2015. The image of South Africa’s 2010 World Cup has been shattered by allegations that its bid over a decade ago was involved in bribes of more than $10 million to secure FIFA votes _ possibly with the knowledge or involvement of the South African government. (AP Photo/Schalk van Zuydam)
            
              Phila Mombombo, a South African Kaizer Chiefs soccer club supporter, and World Cup Soccer supporter holds a newspaper headlining recent bribery allegations against local soccer officials, at his home in  Khayelitsha, South Africa, Thursday, May 28, 2015. The image of South Africa’s 2010 World Cup has been shattered by allegations that its bid over a decade ago was involved in bribes of more than $10 million to secure FIFA votes _ possibly with the knowledge or involvement of the South African government. (AP Photo/Schalk van Zuydam)

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Former SAfrican president issues denial in WCup bid scandal