GENEVA — Sepp Blatter tried to rally the troops at FIFA headquarters after the suspension of his top deputy, insisting soccer’s embattled world governing body would withstand the latest wave of corruption allegations.
Blatter sent an email message to more than 400 staffers following Thursday night’s suspension of FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke over accusations involving black market World Cup tickets
“Please be assured that FIFA remains confident of its ability to recover from the present difficult situation and to restore its reputation for the good of game,” Blatter wrote in the email seen by The Associated Press.
“I urge you all to continue your hard work to develop, promote and celebrate the game we love,” said Blatter, who is due to step down as FIFA president on Feb. 26 after 18 years in the job.
Valcke, a 54-year-old Frenchman, was in talks to settle his multi-million-dollar FIFA contract even before he was suspended, according to an official familiar with the situation.
The official spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to publicly discuss confidential details. The official said Valcke had been in “intense negotiations” about an early exit deal, before being linked to a proposed deal to sell prime 2014 World Cup match tickets on the black market.
The official said Valcke had been expected to leave FIFA in any case.
Valcke could expect to earn several million Swiss francs (dollars) over the next four years in salary and performance bonuses, paid according to FIFA’s results for the 2018 World Cup in Russia. The tournament is expected to earn $6 billion in broadcasting, sponsorship, hospitality and marketing contracts.
Last week, Valcke told reporters in Geneva of being disillusioned with working at FIFA headquarters, amid turmoil and uncertainty since American and Swiss investigations into corruption were revealed on May 27.
Valcke has a contract through 2019, tied by usual FIFA protocol to the four-year presidential mandate which Blatter won two days after FIFA headquarters were raided and seven officials arrested at a luxury downtown Zurich hotel.
With Blatter leaving office in five months, under pressure from the investigations of bribery and money laundering, Valcke was due to follow the president out the door.
Instead, Blatter moved to get him out. He acted within days of U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch visiting Zurich for a meeting unrelated to the FIFA bribery investigation case she oversees.
Lynch warned she expected more indictments and arrests. So far, 14 men have been charged and four made guilty pleas in a wide-ranging case that links FIFA to a racketeering conspiracy.
Valcke has been identified in a $10 million World Cup bidding bribery plot alleged in Lynch’s case.
He signed off payments from FIFA accounts which were requested by South African officials from their 2010 World Cup budget. Valcke denies wrongdoing and FIFA has blamed then-finance committee chairman Julio Grondona, who died last year.
FIFA has asked its ethics committee to investigate the latest allegations made against Valcke by ticket agent Benny Alon.
The Israeli-American published a contract with FIFA, to receive 8,750 tickets in the best seats for each World Cup from 2010 to 2018, and copies of emails which suggested Valcke tried to ensure better supply for high-profile matches in Brazil last year.
Email exchanges appeared to confirm Valcke knew Alon was offering tickets at several times face value. Alon also made an unproven allegation that Valcke was prepared to profit personally from the deal.
Valcke’s lawyer in New York said in a statement late Thursday that his client “unequivocally denies the fabricated and outrageous accusations.”
“Mr. Valcke never received or agreed to accept any money or anything else of value from Mr. Alon,” wrote Barry Berke of Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel.
Graham Dunbar, The Associated Press