June 12, 2015 / 3:04 PM / in 2 years

Interpol ditches FIFA deal as corruption scandal deepens

Sepp Blatter addresses a news conference at the FIFA headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland June 2, 2015.Ruben Sprich

PARIS (Reuters) - Interpol suspended a 20-million-euro ($22 million) sports "integrity" agreement with FIFA on Friday, at the end of testing week for soccer's scandal-hit ruling body that saw its chief spokesman quit, bidding for the 2026 World Cup shelved and records seized from its Zurich headquarters.

FIFA also faced growing calls -- this time from the European parliament -- for its outgoing president, Sepp Blatter, to step aside at once, while plans by Germany to reform the way the organization is run were roundly rejected by soccer chiefs in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean.

Interpol's decision to freeze funding from FIFA to fight match fixing and illegal gambling was perhaps inevitable, coming only days after the international police organization put two former FIFA officials on its most-wanted list and the corruption crisis in world soccer deepened.

The increasing damage to FIFA's reputation raised questions about how long other associated bodies and even sponsors would continue to work with it.

"The real damage of this decision by Interpol is the wider perception that conflicted organizations are now deserting FIFA. It further exacerbates FIFA's 'unclean' image and its escalating isolation," said Chris Eaton, an ex-Interpol officer and former FIFA adviser on anti-corruption, now with the International Center for Sport Security.

Interpol's decision was a disappointment, FIFA said, since the 2011 "integrity in sport" program was not connected to the "current issues" it faced.

The corruption scandal erupted when police descended on a luxury hotel in Zurich on May 27 and arrested seven FIFA officials, pending extradition to the United States.

At the center of the investigation are transactions that went into accounts held in a bank in Trinidad in the name of CONCACAF, the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football, that were "controlled" by former FIFA Vice President Jack Warner.

In an interview with British television, Oliver Camps, described as Warner's right-hand man, said he felt "used and abused" by his old friend and associate.

"We were like brothers. I realize that I should not have put so much confidence in him because he made me do the wrong thing and I was doing it very innocently. I knew nothing about those things," Camps told Channel 4 News.

Warner has denied all charges leveled against him. He was not immediately available for comment.

Channel 4 News said Camps, Caribbean soccer's finance committee chairman, had signed cheques worth millions of dollars on Warner's behalf, which were supposed to finance Trinidad's team in the 2006 World Cup in Germany. It said he was still signing the cheques three years after the World Cup ended.

SCANDAL WORSENS

It has been another bleak week for FIFA.

On Wednesday, FIFA postponed the bidding for the right to host the 2026 World Cup, with Secretary General Jerome Valcke saying during a visit to Russia that it would be "nonsense" to start the process under present circumstances.

Then, perhaps reflecting the growing crisis, the usually composed Valcke unburdened himself of an emotional tirade, saying he was being destroyed by the media in his native France and defending his decision to sign off on a $10 million payment at the center of the U.S. bribery investigation.

Brandishing his pen, a clearly irritated Valcke demanded of journalists: "You want me to take this pen and to hit my head and say 'Hey! I have been stupid, I should have asked many more questions?'"

"You have decided that after Blatter I have to be next head to be cut?" Valcke told a news conference.

On Thursday, Communications director Walter de Gregorio, the public face of the soccer body, resigned after telling a joke at the expense of his employers on Swiss television.

"The FIFA president, secretary general and media director are sitting in a car. Who's driving. Answer? The police."

Despite announcing his resignation, Blatter has remained at his desk, saying he wants to usher in reforms at FIFA before his successor is chosen. FIFA announced that would happen at an election some time between December and February.

The German Football Association meanwhile came up with a radical reform plan under which FIFA's voting structure should be based on the "size and sporting relevance" of its member federations.

At present, each of FIFA's 209 members has a vote, giving soccer power-houses Germany and Brazil the same influence as tiny Pacific islands.

Soccer chiefs in developing countries, who have enjoyed generous funding to promote the game from FIFA during Blatter's 17 years in power, denounced the plan as unfair and racist.

The South American confederation CONMEBOL meanwhile came under pressure of its own when Congress in Paraguay, where the soccer body is based, approved a measure withdrawing immunity from its Asuncion headquarters.

A draft bill to remove the immunity was put to Congress last month after U.S. authorities announced indictments of 14 past and present senior soccer officials and sports media executives connected to FIFA.

"There is an urgent need to repeal this law and get on with the investigation," Senator Juan Carlos Galaverna said during a debate over the measure, which is expected to be signed into law by President Horacio Cartes.

Writing by Giles Elgood and Crispian Balmer; Editing by Peter Millership and Andrew Heavens

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