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 Friday, May 31, 2002 01:16 EST

Zen-Ruffinen to still run World Cup

[Associated Press]

SEOUL, South Korea -- FIFA president Sepp Blatter succeeded Friday in removing his most dangerous critic and forced the withdrawal of legal action against him by members of his executive committee.

Michel Zen-Ruffinen, who accused Blatter of corruption, financial mismanagement and steering FIFA toward bankruptcy, agreed to quit as FIFA general secretary on July 4. He'll continue in the job through the end of the World Cup, which kicked off later Friday with defending champion France playing Senegal.

Blatter, re-elected for a second four-year term Wednesday despite a scandal-plagued campaign, also won a crucial battle for control of the executive committee at Friday's emergency meeting. He blunted the prospect of criminal action against him as some of the 11 committee members who initiated legal action in a Swiss court earlier this month agreed to drop the charges immediately.

Antonio Matarrese of Italy, one of the complainants, has already resigned from the executive committee. FIFA officials couldn't immediately confirm how many of the remaining 10 involved in the lawsuit attended Friday's meeting. The FIFA executive committee comprises 24 members.

FIFA spokesman Keith Cooper said Zen-Ruffinen and the FIFA executives had agreed terms on terminating his contract.

Zen-Ruffinen will "continue to be in charge of the operations of the World Cup,'' said Cooper, reading from a statement. "The two parties expressed their satisfaction at the decision and the meeting was held in a positive atmosphere.

"On a proposal from senior vice president Julio Grondona of Argentina, those present at the meeting of the original 11 executive committee members who had initiated legal proceedings against Mr. Blatter in Zurich agreed that this legal action will be withdraw immediately.''

Blatter defeated African soccer head Issa Hayatou of Cameroon 139-56 in the presidential election by FIFA member nations.

Zen-Ruffinen, a lawyer and former international referee, was promoted through FIFA by Blatter. But he spectacularly broke ranks in early May when he circulated a document detailing his allegations against Blatter.

He accused his boss of making unauthorized payments to Russia's soccer chief and a referee from Niger, as well as a string of other misdeeds.

The allegations were jumped upon by Blatter's opponents, and those 11 executive committee who used them as the basis of the criminal complaint. Swiss prosecutors had not decided whether to launch a formal investigation.

Zen-Ruffinen said he was concerned about FIFA's financial situation for some time, but wanted to try to solve the problem quietly. He finally spoke out because his belief in the good of soccer transcended his loyalty to Blatter, he said.

On Wednesday, Zen-Ruffinen said he would not resign. "But I imagine (Blatter) and the executive committee will wish to part from my company.''

That will happen on July 4.

Blatter wins re-election as FIFA president

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