SEOUL (Reuters) - FIFA presidential candidate Chung Mong-joon said on Wednesday that payments he made to Haiti and Pakistan in 2010 were “charitable donations” and any attempt to use them as part of a reported ethics investigation was “cynical and unethical”.
Responding to media reports that world soccer’s governing body was investigating the South Korean billionaire over the ‘disaster relief’ funds, Chung said in a statement he had been donating money to causes at home and abroad since the 1990s.
“Recent media reports allege that FIFA has started an investigation into FIFA Honorary Vice President Dr. Chung Mong-Joon’s 2010 donations to disaster relief funds to Haiti and Pakistan,” said the statement.
“If these reports are true, we condemn this as a cynical and unethical effort by FIFA to misrepresent even charitable donations for political manipulation.”
FIFA’s ethics committee does not comment on ongoing cases and there has been no confirmation from the governing body that Chung is in their crosshairs.
The scion of Korea’s Hyundai industrial conglomerate formally launched his bid to replace Sepp Blatter as FIFA president in Paris earlier this week with a stinging attack on Blatter and Michel Platini, head of Europe’s ruling body UEFA and a rival candidate for the FIFA presidency.
Blatter responded by saying he was “disturbed” by Chung’s criticism, noting the South Korean had been an influential member of FIFA for 17 years until 2011.
FIFA will hold an elective congress on Feb. 26 to decide on a replacement for Blatter, who is standing down following the organization’s corruption scandals.
U.S. prosecutors indicted nine soccer officials, most of whom had FIFA positions, and five marketing and broadcasting company executives, in May over a range of alleged offences, including fraud, money-laundering and racketeering.
Blatter was re-elected for a fifth term as FIFA president on May 29, but four days later said he would lay down his mandate amid the worst crisis in the body’s history.
Chung, who told Reuters late last month he was wary of Blatter trying to sabotage his campaign, also said in the statement he had provided relief assistance to many different countries including Turkey, Bangladesh, China and Myanmar.
“As chairman of the Asan Foundation, the largest philanthropic organization in Korea, Dr. Chung also helped the foundation provide medical assistance to victims of the Indonesian tsunami, 2005 Pakistan earthquake, and Sri Lankan tsunami,” the statement said.
“In January 2010, as chairman of the ruling Grand National Party in the Korean National Assembly, Dr. Chung also announced at a party meeting he would personally donate money to earthquake relief efforts in Haiti.”
Reporting by Peter Rutherford, additional reporting by Julian Linden; Editing by Ian Geoghegan