MIAMI (Reuters) - For the second time in his career, Jerome Valcke leaves FIFA with a cloud hanging over him.
Sepp Blatter’s lieutenant for the past eight years, Valcke became the highest profile figure in the corruption-plagued organization to fall during the current series of scandals when he was “released from his duties” on Thursday and it appears unlikely he will return.
The Frenchman has not been formally dismissed but Blatter is standing down in February and Valcke had already suggested he would probably go at that time as well.
The 54-year-old, however, is now being investigated by FIFA’s ethics committee after allegations he was involved in a plan to re-sell 2014 World Cup tickets for a lucrative profit.
Valcke’s lawyer “unequivocally” denied the allegations, labeling them as “fabricated and outrageous”.
The allegations are the latest against Valcke as the organization, and his own behavior, came under scrutiny in recent years.
Valcke, a former television executive with French television company Canal Plus, became FIFA’s marketing director in 2003 but was fired three years later after a mishandled negotiation to switch a sponsorship deal from Mastercard to Visa.
The deal ended up in a New York court which ruled that Valcke’s marketing team had “lied repeatedly” during the talks and an out of court settlement with Mastercard cost FIFA $90 million in compensation.
Yet within months of that settlement, Valcke was not only back at FIFA but was at the helm of the administration as general secretary, answering only to Blatter.
“I made the biggest mistake of my life by saying that in business we don’t always say the truth and you could describe that as a commercial lie. Then I was dead ... completely destroyed by (Mastercard‘s) lawyer,” Valcke explained upon his return to FIFA.
Perhaps surprisingly for a former journalist, injudicious language continued to be a problem for Valcke during his tenure.
The 54-year-old caused a row when he said Brazil needed a “kick up the backside” to get the 2014 World Cup ready on time.
In May 2011, the former CONCACAF president and FIFA vice-president Jack Warner, who is now banned from all soccer activities and faces charges from U.S prosecutors, leaked an email he had received from Valcke that suggested Qatar had “bought” the 2022 tournament.
Referring to Mohamed Bin Hammam’s bid to become FIFA president, Valcke questioned whether the Qatari was running just to spite Blatter “or if he thought you can buy FIFA as they bought the WC (World Cup)”.
With widespread allegations that Qatar’s World Cup bid had not been clean, which the Gulf state has continually denied, the words caused a media storm that Valcke struggled to calm.
The Frenchman insisted he was not referring to any “purchase of votes or similar unethical behavior” and that his emails tended to be of “a much less formal tone than in any form of correspondence”.
It was not his use of language but his signature that caused his biggest headache earlier this year when the Department of Justice’s indictment that saw high ranking officials arrested in May was made public.
The DOJ document referred to a “high-ranking FIFA official” in 2008 wiring $10 million from South Africa’s World Cup organizing committee to CONCACAF accounts controlled by Warner, who diverted some of it “for personal use”.
It was not long before reports suggested Valcke was the official who had signed off the payment, which the DOJ linked to Warner’s vote for South Africa to host the 2010 World Cup.
Valcke initially denied he had authorized the payment, saying he had no power to do so, but later admitted he had signed off, albeit without doing anything wrong.
“I am signing contracts every day, everything has the signature of the general secretary,” he said in an emotional press conference held in Russia.
“But it’s not because I am signing everything that I am responsible for the way people are acting around the world.”
Editing by Greg Stutchbury