Fifa presidency race tarnished by plot to blackmail candidates

Fifa presidency race tarnished by plot to blackmail candidates
President of International governing body of association football FIFA Sepp Blatter.

The battle for presidency of the world football governing body, Fifa, is best described by three Es - expensive, explosive and exacting.

The candidate hoping to end current head Sepp Blatter's 17-year reign is Jordanian Prince Ali al-Hussein, who is also a Fifa vice-president. Two other candidates have since dropped out. (See report on facing page.)

So it is no wonder that Kenya-based conmen have come up with a scheme to bilk money from the candidates standing in the May 29 fight.

It can be summed up by three Ss - football, smear and scam.

In an exclusive, The New Paper, working closely with Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant, uncovered the Kenyan scam.

This is how it works.

Claiming to know ex-Fifa officials or insiders with access to sensitive material, the Kenyan syndicate would offer candidates information which suggested they were subjects of a smear campaign supposedly hatched by the Blatter camp.

The conmen would demand money before releasing the supposedly damaging information.

Dutch Football Association head Michael van Praag, who has dropped out of the campaign, and current challenger Prince Ali have confirmed they were approached.

Mr Martin Smith, a spokesman for Prince Ali, told TNP in an e-mail reply on Wednesday: "We have had a number of individuals coming forward with similar allegations.

"Our approach has been to try and set up meetings with these individuals so we can assess them and the information they are giving for ourselves."

Similarly, Mr van Praag admitted receiving e-mail from strangers after his intention to run for Fifa presidency was made public early this year.

One e-mail stated: "Some time in late August 2014, Sepp commissioned some espionage work on you fearing you might stand against him in future."

'NOTHING TO HIDE'

However, Mr van Praag ignored the e-mail.

He said: "What do you think it would mean for my image if I were to respond to those e-mail? If it is true that they are working on a case against me, then so be it.

"I have nothing to hide."

The handful of documents TNP had acquired, purporting this smear campaign, appeared genuine on the surface.

Names of people related to Mr Blatter, including his daughter Corinne and his nephew, were included in e-mail exchanges.

In one document titled "Confidential Investigations and Surveillance Report on Prince Ali bin al-Hussein", a director of a security company based in India was supposedly commissioned to carry out surveillance work on Jan 15.

His job entailed gathering factual information on Prince Ali as a candidate and obtaining access to "confidential information for investigations on a national and international basis".

He was supposed to report to Ms Corinne Blatter on March 20.

TNP contacted the director who requested not to be named.

He said in an e-mail reply: "I have no idea who would want to set me up, especially on such an elaborate scam as this. I have never worked for Ms Corinne Blatter in any way.

"The bottom line here is that this has nothing to do with me and any references to me, my company or colleague are false."

We were convinced he was telling the truth as his contact number and e-mail address listed in the document were wrong.

In another e-mail, supposedly addressed to Ms Blatter in June last year, the sender had written in German: "Corinne, I will see what to do about the prince."

Likewise, Ms Blatter was perplexed with the allegations.

She said: "I do not know who is behind it but it is clearly intended to damage my father's reputation."

Fifa has also strongly denied that the candidates were being spied upon.

It said: "Employees of Fifa are not involved in the presidential election."

The scammers may be linked to a similar scam made during one International Cycling Union (UCI) presidential election.

TNP understands that at least one man had lost "tens of thousands of dollars" trying to obtain information about one UCI candidate.


This article was first published on May 23, 2015.
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