SOUTH African government and sporting officials dismissed allegations the country paid bribes to win the right to host the 2010 soccer World Cup.
“We are very clear that when it comes to the FIFA 2010 World Cup, there is nothing on our side that could implicate our government,” Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula told reporters in Johannesburg.
The speculation about South Africa’s involvement in bribery is “reckless at best,” he said.
South Africa twice paid bribes to ensure it won the bid to stage the 2010 World Cup tournament, the US Justice Department alleges in an indictment it unsealed on Wednesday.
The first time, a bid committee official sent a briefcase full of bundles of $10,000 stacks to Jack Warner, then president of Central and North American soccer body Concacaf, via a Paris hotel drop to an intermediary, according to the indictment.
While South Africa also promised $10 million to Warner’s Caribbean Football Union, it was “unable to arrange for the payment to be made directly from government funds” so FIFA paid. Warner diverted a “substantial portion of the funds” for his personal use, the Justice Department says.
“There has never been any suggestion that anything untoward happened in South Africa,” Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe told reporters in Cape Town on Thursday.
“When we concluded the World Cup, we got a clean audit report from Ernst and Young.”
Warner, who stood down from all soccer posts in 2011, said in a statement that he was innocent of any charges.
“I know nothing about it; my total sponsorship over that period of time wasn’t even close to” that amount, Raymond Hack, who was the chief executive officer of the South African Football Association at the time and a bid committee member, said by phone from Zurich on Thursday.
“We had the best presentation,” said Hack, who is now a member of FIFA’s disciplinary committee. “We proved that we organised the best World Cup ever.”
‘Main actors in movie’
Mbalula said he hadn’t yet seen the indictment and wanted to study it before he commented conclusively.
“We’re told that we’re the main actors of this movie, whereas the main actor is FIFA,” Mbalula said. “We shouldn’t be the ones victimised deliberately and unavoidably in this process.”
The Democratic Alliance, South Africa’s main opposition party, called on Parliament’s sports committee to summon SAFA President Danny Jordaan and other soccer officials to respond to the allegations.
Jordaan, who was elected as mayor of the city of Port Elizabeth on Thursday, wasn’t available for comment.
SAFA spokesman Dominic Chimhavi also defended South Africa’s legacy on his Twitter account.
“No need to press any panic button regarding the FIFA 2010 World Cup,” he said. “Terrible thumb-sucking from individual making those wild allegations.”
Three African football chiefs were among those caught up the probe after they were named as among those who will be questioned by Swiss authorities.
The trio, Africa’s top football boss Issa Hayatou, Jacques Anouma of the Ivory Coast and Egypt’s Hany Abo Rida are all current members of Fifa’s executive.
Switzerland’s attorney general said the three Africans would be among 10 members of Fifa’s executive body who would be questioned about “criminal mismanagement and money laundering” which occurred on its soil.
There is no allegation of their impropriety, with the Swiss statement saying they would “be questioned as persons providing information”.