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The FIFA Net Closes In: Will Sepp Blatter Be Next?

Blatter is reportedly now in the sights of US prosecutors as part of their investigation into money laundering and bribery, as Interpol issues red alerts for six men linked to FIFA.
June 3, 2015, 10:40am
Imagen por Ennio Leanza/EPA

Sepp Blatter, who announced he would resign as president of FIFA on Tuesday, is under investigation by the FBI and US prosecutors as part of their corruption investigation, it has been reported today.

Reuters, the New York Times, and ABC News in the US cited a number of sources confirming the man who has ruled global soccer for 17 years is also in the sights of American investigators, who have so far indicted 14 current and former FIFA officials.

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Investigators hoped those already indicted would cooperate with them to bring charges against Blatter, according to the New York Times who spoke to several law enforcement officials, while a source claimed to ABC it would become a race to see who could save themselves first.

Blatter said yesterday he would leave his post once an extraordinary FIFA congress was arranged between December this year and March 2016, when his successor could be elected.

On Saturday he dismissed the idea he could be the next person targeted by the US investigation. "Arrested for what? Next question," he told a press conference.

But on Tuesday the allegations got ever closer to the 79-year-old, who has spent more than half his life at FIFA, joining first as a technical director before rising through the ranks as general secretary and CEO before becoming the president.

Related: Sepp Blatter to Resign as FIFA President

It was reported by the New York Times that Blatter's right-hand man Jerome Valcke — FIFA's secretary general — was the "high-ranking FIFA official" cited in a US indictment who transferred $10 million to former FIFA vice president Jack Warner in 2008, a payment central to the corruption investigation.

Michel Platini, the French head of European soccer confederation UEFA, and Prince Ali bin al-Hussein of Jordan, who ran against Blatter in the Friday's election and gained 73 votes to Blatter's 133, are tipped as favorites to replace Blatter.

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But the result is far from certain given that African and Asian soccer bodies, which predominantly voted for Blatter, together hold 100 of 209 votes.

News that Blatter was to go was welcomed by leading soccer figures around the world — though not all.

"It was a difficult decision, a brave decision, and the right decision," said Platini, while the global soccer players' union FIFPro said it welcomed Blatter's decision to resign, "as this creates an overdue and unique opportunity to fundamentally reform the governance of football."

Soccer legend and current Brazilian senator Romario said: "His fall will come as a tsunami to every corrupt leader in the confederations around the world… We need the corrupt ones in prison, and we need the contributions from great idols, good sports leaders and football lovers."

Related: Defiant Sepp Blatter Claims Innocence, Says He Was 'Shocked' by Corruption Allegations

But Kalusha Bwalya, Football Association of Zambia president and former African Footballer of the Year, said he was "really surprised and shocked. I did not see today coming." He claimed Blatter had done a lot for FIFA: "His legacy will be all over the world, even in England and Germany where they have all benefited from the aid he has created. For Africa he was always there, he was always caring," he told Reuters.

Wilmar Valdez, Uruguayan Football Association president and vice-president of South America's CONMEBOL confederation, said: "It's an incomprehensible decision. He was very certain he could continue. It is clear that someone important got to him in the last few hours for him to make a decision of this kind."

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FIFA's sponsors have also reacted. Visa said Blatter's departure was "a significant first step towards rebuilding public trust," while McDonald's said "the allegations of corruption and questionable ethics within FIFA have overshadowed the game," reported the Guardian. Coca-Cola said Blatter's departure was a "positive step for the good of sport, football and its fans."

Meanwhile two former FIFA officials and four soccer executives were added to Interpol's most wanted list Wednesday on charges of racketeering and corruption. The international police force issued red alerts for former FIFA vice president Jack Warner, from Trinidad, and former executive committee member Nicolas Leoz, from Paraguay.

Warner was arrested in Trinidad last week, then released, and Leoz is under house arrest in Paraguay — now the men risk arrest and extradition to the US no matter where they travel.

Also added to the most wanted list were Argentinians Alejandro Burzaco and brothers Hugo and Mariano Jinkis, who together are accused of paying more than $100 million in bribes for media and commercial rights to soccer tournaments, and Brazilian broadcast executive Jose Margulies.

The testimony of US soccer official Chuck Blazer, who pleaded guilty to corruption after being arrested in 2013, is expected to be unsealed today and could contain explosive material.

According to the New York Daily News, the FBI fitted a microphone into a hotel key fob he used at London Olympics 2012 venues, with permission from the UK's Scotland Yard. He would "toss his bugged key fob on a table to secretly record fellow international soccer executives," claimed the paper.

Follow Miriam Wells on Twitter: @missmbc

The Associated Press contributed to this report.