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September 18, 2015

Top FIFA Executive Jérôme Valcke Placed on Leave Amid Corruption Investigation

Jérôme Valcke, the second-ranking official at FIFA, was placed on immediate leave and will be investigated for allegations of corruption involving the black-market sale of World Cup tickets, the association announced Thursday.

FIFA, global soccer’s governing body, announced Mr. Valcke’s departure in a brief statement posted on its website. It said that Mr. Valcke had been relieved of his duties effective immediately and that FIFA had been “made aware of a series of allegations involving the secretary general and has requested a formal investigation by the FIFA Ethics Committee.”

Mr. Valcke has served as secretary general of FIFA for eight years, essentially acting as the top deputy to Sepp Blatter, the embattled president of the organization. Mr. Blatter announced in June that he would step down next year after a series of investigations into the activities of leading soccer executives resulted in arrests.

Mr. Valcke has previously denied any wrongdoing or unethical behavior. The latest claims were made by Benny Alon, a former soccer player and longtime consultant involved with the sale of tickets and tourist packages for high-end sporting events.

Mr. Alon charged that Mr. Valcke was directly involved in, and stood to profit from, a scheme to sell tickets for prices well above face value for matches at World Cup tournaments. Mr. Alon and his associates also said that Mr. Valcke and FIFA reneged on a contract with Mr. Alon’s company that gave it the rights to sell World Cup tickets at the 2014 tournament, costing the company money.

Mr. Alon made those claims, and others, at a press briefing in Zurich on Thursday in which he and his colleagues showed members of the news media documents, including email exchanges between Mr. Alon and Mr. Valcke. The New York Times received some of the documents ahead of the meeting, and a review found that some did suggest a relationship between Mr. Valcke and Mr. Alon, though the documents were incomplete and open to interpretation.

“Jérôme Valcke unequivocally denies the fabricated and outrageous accusations by Benny Alon of alleged wrongdoing in connection with the sale of World Cup tickets,” Mr. Valcke’s lawyer, Barry Berke of Kramer Levin, said in a statement Thursday. “Mr. Valcke never received or agreed to accept any money or anything else of value from Mr. Alon.

“As has been reported, FIFA entered into an agreement with Mr. Alon’s company, JB Sports Marketing. That agreement and FIFA’s subsequent business dealings with Mr. Alon were vetted and approved by FIFA and its legal counsel.”

Mr. Valcke is the highest-ranking official to leave FIFA since May, when the United States announced corruption charges against some of the sport’s most powerful officials.

Mr. Valcke has not been charged with a crime, and for months he had maintained that he would remain in his position until Mr. Blatter left the FIFA presidency in February.

Mr. Valcke and other FIFA officials have been under investigation since the United States unsealed a 47-count indictment in May, charging 14 FIFA officials and business executives with a range of crimes, including racketeering conspiracy, money laundering and wire fraud. Four additional people had pleaded guilty to similar charges in earlier years, prosecutors revealed last spring, and investigations of FIFA by both the United States and Swiss authorities have continued since.

Though Mr. Valcke, of France, and Mr. Blatter, of Switzerland, were not named in the United States’ indictment, investigators have scrutinized their actions.

Mr. Valcke was the unidentified “high-ranking FIFA official” referred to in the 162-page indictment who, prosecutors said, authorized a $10 million bank transfer in 2008 — an alleged bribe at the heart of the federal case.

Mr. Valcke disputed having any ties to the transaction until June, when he admitted that he had indeed transferred the money but maintained he had done no wrong.

American authorities said that the $10 million, officially designated to help the growth of soccer in the Caribbean, was paid to Jack Warner, a former FIFA official from Trinidad and Tobago, in exchange for his vote to award the 2010 World Cup to South Africa. Mr. Warner resigned from FIFA amid controversy in 2011 and is among the men indicted by the United States.

In recent months, Mr. Valcke had been defiant in the face of criticism regarding the transaction.

“You’ve decided that, after Blatter, I’m the head to be cut?” he said in June at a news conference in Russia. “Fine, say it. But don’t use the $10 million. Because there’s nothing about the $10 million where I have made any mistake.”

The leave announced Thursday was not the first time that Mr. Valcke had departed FIFA after having been caught up in financial controversy. He spent three years as the organization’s marketing director but was fired in 2006 after a New York judge ruled that he and others had lied repeatedly in negotiations with MasterCard and Visa over a sponsorship deal.

A federal appeals court threw out the ruling five months later, and FIFA agreed to pay a settlement to MasterCard in June 2007. That same month, Mr. Blatter invited Mr. Valcke, who was never charged in that case, to rejoin FIFA as his right-hand man.

Text by The New York Times
 

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