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Thu 12 Jan 2012 10:03 AM

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Ex-Blatter challenger calls for fresh bribery probe

Johansson calls for review of claims Blatter agreed to sell World Cup TV rights for votes

Ex-Blatter challenger calls for fresh bribery probe
FIFA President Sepp Blatter has refused calls to step down

The man Sepp Blatter first beat to become president of
soccer’s governing body says he wants an independent probe into allegations
that Blatter promised to sell World Cup television rights to a voter in return
for support.

Lennart Johansson, now 82, is asking for an investigation
into statements by ex-Caribbean official Jack Warner that Blatter improperly
sold him the broadcast rights in his native Trinidad & Tobago for $1.
Blatter has yet to directly comment, although FIFA last week said Warner’s
claims included “several inaccuracies and falsehoods.”

FIFA declined to comment
further.

“I think I’m entitled to talk about it because I was the
second candidate at the election in 1998,” Johansson, a Swede who once headed
European soccer’s governing body, said in an interview in a Zurich hotel
earlier this week. “Mr. Warner made us aware of really what’s happened by
telling us about it. Then if he’s telling a lie that should be proved. We will
see.”

Blatter, 75, was elected to a fourth 4-year term last year
after his only challenger, former Asian soccer head Mohamed Bin Hammam, quit
the race during an inquiry into allegations that Warner organized a meeting
where Bin Hammam gave Caribbean officials $40,000 in cash for their support.

Bin Hammam is appealing to sports’ top court against a life ban from soccer,
while Warner resigned from his post overseeing the North American, Central
American and Caribbean regions before the enquiry could issue a verdict on his
conduct.

The departures of Bin Hammam and Warner came during a two-
year period in which the organization has dealt with several allegations of
improper conduct
linked to the choice of host for the $4bn World Cup and the
most recent election. At one point, half the Zurich-based body’s executive body
was either suspended or accused of wrongdoing.

Blatter has promised to complete a reform program that will
make the organization more transparent and rid it of anyone found to have
broken governance rules. He says a legal challenge has blocked his effort to
release a document featuring names of soccer officials who took undeclared
payments from FIFA’s bankrupt former marketing and television partner.

Johansson said he doubts Blatter can lead a successful reform given many of the
allegations occurred in the period he’s been president or general secretary of
FIFA.

“For people on the streets, FIFA is corruption, is bribery,
things like that and they hear it year after year and nothing happens,” he
said. “I can’t see how things like that can change.”

Michel Platini, who now heads UEFA, and considered as a
frontrunner to lead FIFA after Blatter, told reporters his organization shared
the same governing statutes as FIFA but “we have no problems of democracy and
transparency.”

“I think it’s a problem of the people and I don’t know what
will be the future,” said the Frenchman.

Johansson said members of the executive committee, some of
whom have been there for more than two decades, refuse to discuss corruption
when he meets them at FIFA events.

“The question is why they stay under these circumstances,”
he said. “They don’t like to talk about it. And the worst thing is it creates a
lot of speculation about why they behave like this.”

Author David Yallop reported in his 2006 book ‘How They
Stole the Game’ that cash bundles of $50,000 were handed out to African
delegates in Paris before Blatter’s victory over Johansson. Blatter, who’d been
supported by Bin Hammam and Warner in 1998, told reporters at a roundtable
meeting last year, money changed hands before his first election, denying it
was anything to do with him.

“Who has bought votes in the first election? Go down to
Paris in June 8, 1998, in the Meridien Montparnasse,” Blatter told reporters in
the weeks before securing the latest term, which he says will be his last.

Johansson described himself as “very naive.” He said he was
shocked at the result after claiming he’d got enough “handshakes” to make him
believe he could win.

Warner said he was also granted television rights to World
Cup tournaments in 2002, 2006, 2010 and 2014 editions.

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