We paid no bribe for votes, says Mbalula

Minister Fikile Mbalula. Picture: Michel Bega

Minister Fikile Mbalula. Picture: Michel Bega

The South African government has insisted the payment of $10 million to former Concacaf president Jack Warner was “above board” and part of a long-term strategy to help the African diaspora in the Caribbean.

Minister of Sport and Recreation Fikile Mbalula held a lengthy press conference at Safa House yesterday and launched a vehement defence against US Department of Justice allegations that the $10 million was actually a bribe paid to Warner in return for votes in South Africa’s ultimately successful bid to host the 2010 Fifa World Cup.

The controversy racked up a notch this week, as a letter emerged from March 2008, with former South African Football Association president Molefi Oliphant instructing Fifa general secretary Jerome Valcke to pay the money to Warner, as part of a “Diaspora Legacy Programme”.

In the letter, Oliphant states the money is to be taken off the 2010 local organising committee’s (LOC) $423 million operational budget for the World Cup. Initially, it was expected Oliphant or the chairperson of the 2010 LOC, Danny Jordaan, would be at yesterday’s media conference, but strangely, neither were present at Safa House.

“Earlier on, somebody was asking the question: ‘Where is the LOC?’ The LOC was disbanded,” was Mbalula’s rather curt take on the matter. The conference began with a video of former South African president Thabo Mbeki talking in 2011 about how the World Cup was also about helping the “African continent and diaspora”.

“The fact a payment of $10 million was made to an approved programme above board does not equate to bribery,” said Mbalula, taking up the baton.

“I had conferred with the leadership of football in our country on this matter and also former members of the LOC. I had also extensively consulted with the leadership of government on the day … and I can today unequivocally state this payment was not a bribe. At the time of the government’s decision in 2000 to bid for the 2006 World Cup, we had already adopted the agenda for … the African Renaissance. Our understanding of this agenda is that it does not only involve the geographical boundaries of the continent but all Africans in the diaspora. A legacy programme for the African Diaspora was approved as a formal programme of the [2010]World Cup to benefit the development of football in the diaspora. This was subsequently followed by the allocation of the said $10 million to this fund.”

Even if one takes at face value this rather laboured explanation, the question remains as to why the money was paid to Warner, a man at the heart of the US Department of Justice’s allegations, who has constantly been surrounded by allegations of corruption.

“At that time Jack Warner was the president of Concacaf and the CFU [Carribean Football Union]. We do not see anything wrong with the nomination at that time … He was a person of good standing,” said director-general of sport and recreation Alec Moemi.

Mbalula added that he was “shocked” Sepp Blatter had announced his intention to resign as Fifa president, praising him as the man who brought the World Cup to Africa. – jontym@citizen.co.za

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