By Rob Harris
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
ZURICH _ Four years after stepping down in disgrace, former FIFA vice-president Jack Warner was banned from soccer for life on Tuesday for repeated acts of bribery related to World Cup bidding votes.
Warner, a long-time ally of President Sepp Blatter who was allowed to resign from FIFA in 2011 with his “presumption of innocence” maintained, is currently fighting extradition from Trinidad and Tobago on U.S. charges of racketeering, wire fraud and money-laundering.
The decision by the FIFA ethics committee on Tuesday shows that judge Hans-Joachim Eckert will pursue officials long after they have left their jobs.
A more pressing case for the ethics body is an investigation into Blatter, who was interrogated by Swiss prosecutors on Friday in part over allegations he undervalued the awarding of World Cup television rights to Warner. Blatter, who denies wrongdoing, is at risk of being suspended by his own organization.
Warner’s lifetime FIFA ban stems from Eckert’s report on the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.
As leader of the CONCACAF region from 1990-2011, Warner gained considerable influence in World Cup votes by the FIFA executive committee and now the extent of his wrongdoing has been reinforced by Eckert.
“Mr. Warner was found to have committed many and various acts of misconduct continuously and repeatedly during his time as an official in different high-ranking and influential positions at FIFA and CONCACAF,” the FIFA statement said.
“In his positions as a football official, he was a key player in schemes involving the offer, acceptance, and receipt of undisclosed and illegal payments, as well as other money-making schemes.”
The case highlights how the spectre of corruption has hung over FIFA under Blatter’s 17-year presidency.
Former FIFA vice-president Chung Mong-joon, who hopes to succeed Blatter in February’s election, said Tuesday the leadership crisis is so severe that an emergency task force should be set up to run the game.
With Blatter under criminal investigation and general secretary Jerome Valcke suspended from work and being investigated by the ethics committee, Chung said FIFA is in “total meltdown.”
“Under such circumstances, FIFA and regional confederations should consider convening extraordinary sessions of their respective executive committee(s) as well as congress to set-up an emergency task force that will enable FIFA secretariat to function without interruption,” Chung, a former vice-president under Blatter, said in a statement from South Korea.
Among Chung’s potential rivals in February’s election is UEFA President Michel Platini, who has been questioned as a witness over a payment from FIFA _ one of the reasons Blatter was interrogated on Friday by Swiss authorities. Blatter and Platini denied wrongdoing as they await news from the ethics committee, which is looking into the case.
FIFA is expected to hold an election on Feb. 26 to replace Blatter, who delivered his sudden resignation statement in June, four days after being re-elected for a fifth term.
“FIFA is currently facing an unprecedented crisis,” said Chung, a billionaire businessman and member of the family that founded Hyundai. “However, this is also an unprecedented opportunity to reform it. If all those who love football can bring their collective wisdom to bear on reforming FIFA, it will be possible to save and revitalize it.
“The most urgent task at hand is to root out corruption from within FIFA.”