One of the things about the whole "Meet me in Port-of-Spain and Get a Bag O'Cash" story that seems patently obvious is that Sepp Blatter knew all about it.
He may look like a doddering old idiot but you don't get to be the head rattlesnake among this bunch of scale-covered bellycrawlers by not having your ear to the ground. And two FIFA Vice Presidents can't meet with 22 federation Presidents in a big hotel and hand out piles of money without Sepp knowing exactly what's going on.
As noted yesterday, when Chuck Blazer received reports from various CFU members - and it's now known that Bahamas FA President Anton Sealey was primary among them - that ethics violations occurred, he was required by statute to report what he knew to the appropriate FIFA officials for investigation.
Now it comes to light that among the statements that CONCACAF Counsel John Collins forwarded to the Ethics Committee is testimony that Sepp Blatter was directly informed about the events in question, allegedly before the meetings ever took place.
Like Blazer, the rules demand that he report that information to the ethics committee.
Unlike Blazer, he did not do so.
As a release from Bin Hammams' office said:
"The accusations .. contain statements according to which Mr. Blatter, the incumbent FIFA President, was informed of, but did not oppose, payments allegedly made to members of the Caribbean Football Union"
(The obvious permutations here make one's head spin: if Bin Hammam says Blatter knew about the bribes but didn't report them, then isn't he admitting to the fact that the bribes occurred? Or is he really trying to have it both ways: there was no bribery but someone told Blatter that there was and so he should have blown the whistle on these non-existent bribes?
Any lawyers out there? Psychologists? Weed dealers?)
THE OFFICIAL NOTICE FROM FIFA says that Bin Hammams' request was based on the fact that:
".. in the report submitted by FIFA Executive Committee member Chuck Blazer earlier this week, FIFA Vice-President Jack A. Warner would have informed the FIFA President in advance about alleged cash payments to delegations attending a special meeting of the Caribbean Football Union (CFU) apparently organized jointly by Jack A. Warner and Mohamed bin Hammam on 10 and 11 May 2011 and that the FIFA President would have had no issue with these.
Subsequently, the FIFA Ethics Committee today opened a procedure against the FIFA President in compliance with art. 16 of the FIFA Code of Ethics."
*Edit: As some commenters have noted, this seems like an odd construct, so after further review here's the deal:
Warner allegedly told one or more of the CFU reps, whoapparently expressed some concern about Blatter finding out about the bribes, that Sepp "would not have a problem with" the transactions.
This too seems pretty thin for obvious reasons, but that seems to be all the accusation amounts to.
Blatters' only public response, earlier today, was simply: "I cannot comment on the proceedings that have been opened against me. The facts will speak for themselves."
At first the accusation just looked like noise and nonsense, but as the facts began to unfold it became clear that while it may seem like a pretty modest accusation when compared to tossing around sacks of money like bridal bouquets, a violation is a violtion.
And in the current atmosphere, nothing is minor although in truth this seems to a case of Bin Hammams' word against Blatters', which would seem to pale a lot next to 8 X 10 color glossy photos of stacks of US currency.
Blatter has been invited to respond to the charges by Saturday and has been called to appear before the full committee on Sunday, after which the acting Chairman of the Ethics Committee, along with FIFA General Secretary Jerome Valcke will appear at a live streaming media conference to be carried on the FIFA website. It's currently scheduled to begin at 6 PM CET (some kind soul can figure out what that is in Eastern Time) and it ought to be a real stemwinder.
On the plus side, Blatter has gotten the very best possible character reference: Vladimir Putin says the accusation against his pal Sepp is NONSENSE.
Lowlife snakes do stick together, don't they? It's kind of like having Tony Soprano testify for you. All things considered, it's just not helpful.
Somewhat surprisingly, Ethics Committee Chairman Claudio Sulser had already recused himself on the basis that since he is Swiss, like Blatter, he might be seen as biased.
Another committee member, American attorney Burton Haimes, has also RECUSED HIMSELF saying that as a friend and associate of Blazers' he too wants to avoid the appearance of a conflict.
So the meeting will be run bu Deputy Chairman Petrus Damaseb of Namibia, and the members, who are assembled in Zurich as we speak, are from Panama, Uruguay, Senegal, Australia, France, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, Guam, Norway and Colombia.
Interestingly, the Aussie member is Les Murray, who was PUBLICLY FURIOUS over the Qatar decision, calling it "lunacy" and adding that FIFA "is in big trouble" before concluding:
"Nobody will believe that Qatar won this process legitimately".
The rest of the committee is a mixed bag, with some former players, a real live judge or two and a couple of longtime football administrators. By and large they're an independent bunch not beholden to anyone in particular.although it's too bad that Haimes won't be there. He's a heavyweight who could probably buy and sell Warner by himself.
Among all the charges and countercharges being flung back and forth, there's one major item that holds no water at all, and that's the claim by both Bin Hammam and Warner that "the timing of the accusations" (ie. just before the FIFA election) is "suspicious".
In truth it's nothing of the kind.
The incidents in question occurred on May 11 and 12. Presumably Blazer was contacted immediately and he subsequently asked Collins to conduct and investigation. The results were forwarded to FIFA on May 25.
It was entirely timely. Blazer did due diligence here and to say otherwise is ludicrous. The time to bring electoral bribery to light is during the election.
What all of this does do however is bring the whole question of the FIFA Presidential election into question.
Can a vote be held under these circumstances? Can two candidates, both of whom could very well be suspended by the time the Congress opens, legitimately stand for election?
Until todays' charges, you had to believe that Blatter would fight tooth and nail, to his last dying breath, to force the election to go forward. Bin Hammam is toast and even the votes he has most assuredly already bought and paid for would have deserted him.
That's likely still true, but maybe not quite so much as a couple days ago.
Of course any serious, reputably run organization would want time to digest the situation before balloting began. At the least, with Bin Hammam almost certainly about to be tossed out of FIFA altogether, there ought to be an opportunity for new nominations.
One has to suspect though that Blatter will get a reprimand, he'll sob for the cameras about his love for FIFA and how contrite he is and everyone will count this years' Goal Grant money and he'll be re-elected next Wednesday.
However all that may be, there's one thing that's clear: as the prime mover behind the Qatar World Cup bid, that vote has to be vacated, particularly in light of the fact that we now have evidence that, one way or another, a full nine votes were badly compromised if not outright purchased.
It simply cannot stand. The process must begin again, with a new, transparent voting procedure, and FIFA's corrupt old guard banished