More turmoil for FIFA as secretary general Valcke suspended after World Cup ticket allegations

GENEVA — FIFA suspended its top official Jerome Valcke and ordered an investigation into alleged unethical conduct on Thursday, throwing world soccer’s scandal-scarred governing body into further turmoil.

Valcke, FIFA’s secretary general for the past eight years under President Sepp Blatter, was hours earlier the subject of allegations over a deal for 2014 World Cup ticket sales on the black market.

“FIFA today announced that its Secretary General Jerome Valcke has been put on leave and released from his duties effective immediately until further notice,” it said in a brief statement which did not specify details.

“Further, FIFA has been made aware of a series of allegations involving the secretary general and has requested a formal investigation by the FIFA Ethics Committee.”

A call to Valcke’s mobile phone was not answered late Thursday.

Earlier Thursday, a former FIFA ticketing partner made allegations about being supplied by Valcke to sell top-tier World Cup tickets to matches in Brazil at three times face value.

The marketing executive, Benny Alon, also made an unproven allegation that Valcke had been prepared to profit personally from the deal.

Valcke was expected to deny the allegations.

It was unclear if Alon had already sent details of his allegations to FIFA’s ethics panel, which accepts tip-offs about possible wrongdoing from members of the public.

A statement from the ethics committee quickly followed FIFA’s announcement, noting that “as a matter of principle, it will analyze all information that is brought to its attention of its own accord.”

Valcke, a 55-year-old Frenchman, rose to the top administrative job at FIFA soon after being fired in 2006 during a scandal.

As marketing director, he was implicated in allegedly misleading World Cup sponsor Mastercard during contract renewal talks.

FIFA and Blatter eventually signed with Visa, provoking a legal suit from Mastercard which football’s governing body settled for $90 million.

Valcke’s conduct and business ethics were severely criticized by a New York judge who heard the case.

FIFA fired Valcke and other marketing officials involved in the deal, then re-hired him several months later as secretary general after Blatter was re-elected president.

FIFA has been in crisis since dual American and Swiss investigations of corruption implicating senior officials were revealed in May.

Valcke was identified as having processed transfers of $10 million from FIFA accounts which were alleged by the U.S. Department of Justice to be bribes for CONCACAF officials to support South Africa’s successful bid to host the 2010 World Cup.

FIFA and Valcke said the payments were authorized by then-finance committee chairman Julio Grondona, after being requested by South African officials to be paid from their tournament organization funds.

Still, Blatter announced his planned resignation on June 2, the day after FIFA and Valcke’s role in the affair was revealed.

Valcke is scheduled to leave FIFA on Feb. 26 with Blatter, and acknowledged that the next FIFA president should appoint his own secretary general to have a fresh start for a new administration.

Since 2007, Valcke’s main responsibility has been to oversee contracts and the troubled preparations for two World Cups. Both events in South Africa and Brazil were played with few organizational hitches and exceeded expectations.

In July, at the 2018 World Cup draw in St. Petersburg, Russia, Valcke reflected on his time in office.

“As the head of the administration I can be proud of what FIFA has done,” he said. “The administration, I don’t think, has ever been part of any of the stories which are around FIFA, including all the commercial agreements we have signed from 2007 to 2015.”

Graham Dunbar, The Associated Press

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