Fikile Mbalula on Wednesday said that the $10 million payment made by South Africa to the Caribbean Football Union (CFU) was not bribe to secure the hosting of the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
Instead, the payment was described by the country’s Sports and Reacreation Minister as an “above-the-board” payment to an “approved project”.
“There were no suitcases. The money went from bank to bank,” Mbalula told a press conference on Wednesday.
The minister said South Africa does not oppose the current investigation by the United States into alleged bribery, but called on the US to come forward with proof to back such allegations, and pledged to share any necessary information with the US government.
The 2008 payment to the Caribbean was part of South Africa’s policy of supporting sports in Africa and its diaspora, Mbalula stressed.
“The money was never tied to the issue of votes” on who would host the World Cup, the minister said.
“It was about legacy.”
Mbalula said South Africa was chosen to host the World Cup (in 2004, beating Morocco and Egypt), thanks to its strong bid and hard lobbying, and would have won the bid even without the Caribbean donation.
“We refuse to be caught up in the battle between the US authorities and FIFA,” the minister said.
Mbalula said South Africa was “shocked” by the resignation of FIFA president Joseph Blatter who “has been a good friend of South Africa” and “played a major role in shifting the world focus to Africa.”
The minister said South Africa had “the responsibility to defend the legacy of the World Cup and Africa’s success.”
The US authorities are investigating the transfer of 10 million dollars, paid by FIFA on behalf of 2010 World Cup hosts South Africa, which had been unable to pay the sum directly from government funds.
Quoting anonymous sources with knowledge of the investigation, the New York Times said prosecutors believe secretary general Jerome Valcke is the unidentified “high-ranking FIFA official” referred to in a US indictment in the probe of former FIFA vice-president Jack Warner.
Warner, the former head of both the Central and North American soccer body CONCACAF and CFU, was one of 14 people indicted in the United States last week on bribery and corruption charges.
In a statement Tuesday, FIFA said 10 million US dollars were paid to Warner following a request by the South African government to “support the African diaspora in Caribbean countries as part of the World Cup legacy.”
SAFA instructed FIFA to have the diaspora legacy programme administered and implemented directly by Warner, who at that time was deputy chairman of the finance committee and who “should act as the fiduciary of the … fund,” the statement said.
FIFA said that neither Valcke nor any other member of FIFA’s senior management “were involved in the initiation, approval and implementation of the above project.”