The big issue: Innocent until...

The big issue: Innocent until...

Today was to be a milestone, or more precisely another set of milestones, in the interesting life of the man with a million nicknames, Sepp Blatter. Forty years “working” for Fifa, 6,200 days as president, with yet another election and four-year term assured, taking him to his 83rd birthday in 2019.

He has been called Bellend (British slang, others can look it up) on purpose on Wikipedia and unwittingly by the South African government. He is known by many as football’s dark prince and by some as Don Blatterone, a Mafia reference. Darth Blatter is commonly heard.

And soon, he could become known as “a person of interest” if the US investigation spreads. At last, it just might be the start of an actual attack on corruption in the bountiful game.

Swiss police backed by serious US indictments raided the luxury Zurich hotel housing Mr Blatter’s most pampered and reliable backers. The raid was timed exquisitely to be sure the seven mostwanted Fifa men would be available for handcuffs and (US slang) the perp’s walk. Also, it assured two days of just the worst kind of spotlight on Mr Blatter, who of course must be referred to as innocent until proved guilty.

Ditto for the Thai contribution to world soccer shenanigans, the always interesting Worawi Makudi, a football executive’s role model. The head of the Football Association of Thailand (FAT) is the current (and unchallenged) Thailand record holder for the most escapes from tight moral and legal tight jams, and also is completely innocent until proved guilty.

A 164-page indictment authored by the US Justice Department and revealed to court and the public personally by the new Attorney-General, Loretta Lynch, provides massive details of the charges against the arrested men. If they are extradited from Switzerland and convicted, they face 20 years in US federal prisons, which are not country clubs. The immediate charges are racketeering, fraud and money laundering. “More is coming,” as Mr Blatter himself put it.

Swiss police think they hold vital evidence about all that mafiosi, blackmail and money laundering activity that everyone assumes Fifa runs, in the name of making the beautiful game the profitable game. The press and investigators and prosecutors have detailed all this at length, but almost no one has had to pay. Until now. Mr Blatter is decidedly more famous but, story on story, and even allowing for hometown bias, Thailand’s FAT man is arguably more interesting. Mr Worawi became president of FAT with one of the toughest acts in football to follow — the great Vijit Getkaew. As a referee, Vijit was savagely beaten by the entire North Korean team after a 1982 Southeast Asian Games match, with Pyongyang’s best complaining they gave him a bribe and Mr Vijit cheated instead for the other team, Kuwait.

No one ever beat the FAT man over a bribe (that we know of), but Mr Worawi has had many moments in the glare of publicity. One of the best known was his National Training Camp, where the top Thai footballers would prepare for yet another World Cup campaign, and aspiring players would get world-class coaching and competition.

Fifa donated many millions of baht directly to Mr Worawi. Seed funds alone were $450,000, or 13.5 million in real money, but the full amount is classified by Fifa. The FAT man held press conferences and led the media to the site in Nong Chok, Min Buri district, where the camp would be built. Somewhere along the line, the baht was all spent, the training camp was slightly less than advertised, no Thai team trained there — and the 156.25 rai of land turned out to belong to Mr Worawi, who purchased it from himself, then sold it back to himself. Mr Blatter said the Thai justice system could straighten out any crookedness involved, and none was found.

The FAT man’s best-known incident involved Qatar, when that emirate was trying to win votes to host World Cup 2022. Thailand’s vote, meaning Mr Worawi’s vote, was publicly undecided, until Mr Worawi and an aide enjoyed a firstclass visit (The Torch Doha, 45,150 baht per night). Somehow, Qatar’s profitable gas sales to Thailand wound up on the Thai delegation’s agenda. By the time Mr Worawi headed back to Thailand, his vote for Qatar was assured, and Qatar had agreed to spread the profits on its Thai gas sales differently.

"This is an old issue. I have already cleared up all allegations," Mr Worawi has previously said on the matter.

This deal is very much on the minds of the Swiss authorities, who note that Mr Worawi, like every person of interest, is entitled to be officially considered innocent as of this week. He is, Swiss investigators have told Bangkok Post Sunday (their capital letters) NOT a suspect.

By sad coincidence, the Fifa board ended Mr Worawi’s membership earlier this year, replaced by the Malaysian delegate. It has been a superbly fascinating 17 years of watching the FAT man at work on the international stage. One wonders only, with both US and Swiss investigators interested in hearing his opinions, whether it will be all over if the FAT man sings.

Bangkok Post

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This represents the Bangkok Post newspaper as a whole.

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