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Blatter: I knew about 'illegal' payments

updated 1:35 PM EDT, Thu July 12, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • FIFA President Blatter admits he knew about payments to former FIFA officials
  • Blatter says he didn't think there was an offense at the time
  • FIFA has set up an Ethics Committee since the revelations emerged
  • The Swiss court is investigating FIFA for "disloyal management"

(CNN) -- FIFA president Sepp Blatter has admitted that he did know about alleged bribe payments made to former FIFA executives, but insists he didn't think they were illegal at the time.

"You can't judge the past on the basis of today's standards. Otherwise it would end up with moral justice. I can't have known about an offense that wasn't even one," he told the website of football's world governing body.

A Swiss court has published its findings following an investigation into alleged illegal payments made by FIFA marketing partner International Sports and Leisure (ISL) to former FIFA president Joao Havelange and former executive committee member Ricardo Teixeira.

The report found that Havelange had received at least 1.5 million Swiss francs ($1.53 million) and Ricardo Teixeira was paid at least CHF 12.4 million ($12.64 million) from marketing partner ISL.

Blatter was FIFA's general secretary at the time of the alleged irregularities, and in that role he co-signed agreements with the marketing group.

Kickbacks and cover-ups at FIFA?
A turbulent period for FIFA began in May 2010. Whilst most of the world's soccer fans were more concerned with Africa's first World Cup finals that June, FIFA was presented with official bid documents by Australia, England, Netherlands/Belgium, Japan, South Korea, Qatar, Russia, Spain/Portugal and the United States for the 2018 and 2022 tournaments. During the ceremony at its Swiss headquarters, FIFA announced dates for inspections of the bidding nations from July-September. A turbulent period for FIFA began in May 2010. Whilst most of the world's soccer fans were more concerned with Africa's first World Cup finals that June, FIFA was presented with official bid documents by Australia, England, Netherlands/Belgium, Japan, South Korea, Qatar, Russia, Spain/Portugal and the United States for the 2018 and 2022 tournaments. During the ceremony at its Swiss headquarters, FIFA announced dates for inspections of the bidding nations from July-September.
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Blatter has confirmed that he is the "P1" character investigators referred to in several key points of the report. The investigators specifically identified "P1" as someone who knew about the illegal payments.

"It was confirmed by the former chief financial officer of FIFA ... that a certain payment made to Joao Havelange by the Company 1 amounting to CHF 1 million was mistakenly directly transferred to a FIFA account; not only the CFO had knowledge of this, but also, among others, P1 would also have known about it," the report stated.

However, Blatter defended his involvement on the FIFA website in a move that shows the 76-year-old is making some effort to keep the promises of greater transparency he made after being re-elected in 2011.

"Back then, such payments could even be deducted as a business expense," he said of ISL's transactions, which were made between 1999 and the company's collapse in 2001.

"Today, that would be punishable under law."

However, one of FIFA's critics insists that Blatter should take more responsibility for the ruling body's actions.

"The FIFA president has a serious moral compass problem. You are looking at an organization whose culture is tolerant of impropriety," David Larkin, co-director of campaign group Change FIFA, told CNN.

"The president is trying to defend acts that would not be tolerated anywhere else."

FIFA has been keen to point to its active involvement in the case, declaring on Wednesday in a response to the document's publication: "The decision by the Federal Court is in line with what FIFA and the FIFA president have been advocating since 2011, when world football's governing body announced its commitment to the publication of the ISL non-prosecution order."

Blatter highlighted the formation of an Ethics Committee, an adjudicatory body and an investigatory body, and told the FIFA website that "some important steps have already been taken."

However, Larkin described FIFA as "the least qualified people to investigate" the allegations against it.

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