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 Monday, June 24, 2002 15:57 EST

Corruption investigation continues vs. Blatter

[Associated Press]

ZURICH, Switzerland -- A Swiss investigation of FIFA president Sepp Blatter continues despite the withdrawal of a criminal complaint against him by members of the executive committee of world soccer's governing body, a prosecutor said Monday.

"The investigation will be pursued until we decide to terminate it or file charges,'' said District Attorney Urs Hubmann.

Eleven members of FIFA's 24-man executive committee filed the complaint in a Zurich court last month on the basis of a document from FIFA General Secretary Michel Zen-Ruffinen alleging corruption and financial mismanagement.

At an executive committee meeting in Seoul May 31 -- the day after Blatter was re-elected to a new four-year term as president by an overwhelming majority -- members agreed to withdraw the complaint.

But Hubmann told The Associated Press that this had no effect on the investigation because law enforcement officials are legally bound to investigate in cases of dereliction of duty. He said Blatter was being investigated on suspicion of embezzlement and mismanagement.

He declined to say how long it might take until a decision is reached.

Zen-Ruffinen alleged that Blatter showered millions of dollars worth of financial favors on the North and Central American and Caribbean confederation (CONCACAF) and its president, Jack Warner, and made unauthorized payments to other soccer officials.

Blatter dismissed most of the allegations and denied any type of corruption. He said the accusations were part of a campaign to install African soccer chief Issa Hayatou as FIFA president.

But the former Swiss army colonel did concede paying $100,000 to Viacheslav Koloskov, the head of the Russian soccer federation, for executive committee expenses from 1998 to 2000 when Koloskov wasn't a member of the committee but carried out many official duties.

He also admitted giving $25,000 to Lucien Bouchardeau, a referee from Niger. But he stressed this was out of his own pocket and was merely a gesture of personal sympathy because Bouchardeau was struggling financially.

Zen-Ruffinen charged that Blatter wanted to bribe Bouchardeau to discredit Somali official Farah Addo, who claimed he was offered money to vote for Blatter in 1998.

Zen-Ruffinen said FIFA's financial situation was much more precarious than generally believed and that losses from the ISL bankruptcy were more than $115.6 million.

After Blatter's reelection to a second four-year term, Zen-Ruffinen agreed to quit as FIFA general-secretary on July 4 after the World Cup ends.

Blatter insists that FIFA's losses from the collapse of its marketing partner ISL/ISMM, which held the television rights for the 2002 and 2006 World Cup finals for much of the world, is much lower than claimed by his opponents.

But his critics argue that FIFA's financial headaches will explode in the coming years because the organization has borrowed money from future World Cup revenues to cover existing shortfalls -- a process known as securitization.

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