Revelling in his international diplomacy role, former Fifa president Sepp Blatter has revealed he was asked by Switzerland’s foreign ministry last year to help persuade an African president to leave office.
Blatter offered Pierre Nkurunziza, the Burundi state president and a soccer fan, an ambassador’s role with Fifa as the nation fell into violent turmoil. Blatter’s intervention was supported by the United States, he claims in his new book, which was launched on Thursday, and known to American Secretary of State John Kerry. “Mr. Kerry was involved,” Blatter said at a book launch party. “I am very happy that finally it came out. It shows that football is about more than kicking a ball.”
The diplomatic intrigue played out one year ago just as the US Department of Justice prepared to hit senior Fifa officials with an indictment alleging bribery, fraud, and money laundering last May 27. In the fallout, Blatter was forced from office.
Last April, Nkurunziza said he wanted an unconstitutional third presidential term, and a bloody military coup failed to remove him. Blatter was soon approached by Yves Rossier, the state secretary of the Swiss ministry, and made his offer to Nkurunziza.
“I proposed to the president, who is a big football fan, in front of witnesses that if it would be an advantage for his country and him, Fifa could deploy him as an ambassador for football in Africa or in the whole world,” Blatter is quoted saying in an interview section of the 300-page book.
“The mission failed,” Blatter said on Thursday, revealing he tempted Nkurunziza in a telephone conversation by saying Fifa could offer “more international recognition than as the president of your country”. Nkurunziza rejected the Fifa role then won a disputed election in July. He continues to lead his troubled nation.
The Swiss ministry confirmed on Thursday there was contact between Blatter and Rossier. “The intention was to contribute to a peaceful solution in order to prevent the current crisis in Burundi,” the ministry said in a statement, adding that Switzerland “never asked President Nkurunziza not to run for the office of president again”.
Blatter’s picture-led book Sepp Blatter: Mission and Passion Football reflects on his 41 years at scandal-hit Fifa, which ended in February. It includes photographs of Blatter with US President Barack Obama, Russian President Vladimir Putin, and Pope Francis.
Obama’s pick as Attorney General, Loretta Lynch, has led the ongoing investigation into Fifa which targets Blatter, who risks being arrested if he travels to countries which have extradition treaties with the US. “My lawyer said, ‘Please, as long as there are still some things against you, stay in Switzerland. Switzerland will never deliver you anywhere’,“ the 80-year-old Blatter said on Thursday.
The book, written by his spokesman Thomas Renggli, was initially scheduled for release before the February 26 election to replace Blatter as Fifa president. Before the election Blatter was hit by a six-year ban from soccer by Fifa’s ethics committee.
Blatter is awaiting an appeal hearing date at the Court of Arbitration for Sport. He was suspended for a financial conflict of interest over a payment given to Uefa president Michel Platini. Platini goes to Cas on April 29 to appeal against his own six-year ban.
Blatter is also the subject of a Swiss criminal investigation over the payment, and for approving the sale of undervalued World Cup television rights for the Caribbean. That deal benefited disgraced former Fifa vice -resident Jack Warner, who is fighting extradition to the US from his native Trinidad and Tobago. Warner appears in the book in the photograph of Blatter with Obama at the White House in 2009.
The Fifa election was won by former Uefa general secretary Gianni Infantino, who Blatter said in the book once applied at an unspecified date for a job in the Fifa legal department. “Without success,” Blatter noted.
Blatter’s first post-presidential book includes top-10 lists of favorite players, matches and stadiums, plus a ranking of world leaders by their knowledge of the sport. China President Xi Jingping edges Nelson Mandela to be No. 1. Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II, who celebrated her 90th birthday on Thursday, is surprisingly ranked at No. 5, one place above Silvio Berlusconi, the former prime minister of Italy and longtime AC Milan owner. Milan has won five of its seven titles as Europe’s champion club under Berlusconi.
Blatter said he plans another book – an encyclopedia detailing the rise of Fifa as a geopolitical player since his predecessor, João Havelange of Brazil, was elected in 1974. He hinted the next book could tell his side of events last June 2 when he announced his planned exit from Fifa. – AfricaInd