STELLENBOSCH, South Africa (AP) — When South Africa won the right to host Africa’s first World Cup, it was seen as a heartwarming reward for Nelson Mandela and a country that had shaken off decades of apartheid.
Today, the picture seems very different.
The image of South Africa’s World Cup in 2010 has been shattered by allegations that its bid over a decade ago was involved in bribes of more than $10 million to secure FIFA votes — possibly with the knowledge or involvement of the South African government.
The allegations against two unidentified senior South African bid officials — and FIFA officials who supposedly sought bribes and facilitated payments — were contained in the 164-page indictment released Wednesday by the U.S. Department of Justice that detailed over two decades of corruption in world soccer.
The department made the South African allegations in a section titled the “2010 FIFA World Cup Vote Scheme,” throwing a once feel-good story under the same suspicion of graft as the heavily-tarnished votes that sent the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar, respectively.
Encapsulated by Mandela’s beaming smile at the host announcement in Zurich in May 2004, South Africa’s victorious bid on its second attempt was also a landmark for FIFA President Sepp Blatter, who made clear his desire to take the showpiece tournament to new territory in Africa.
South Africa defeated Morocco 14-10 in the FIFA vote, a result which now appears was secured through bribery.
In one stunning revelation, the Justice Department alleged three payments totaling $10 million were made in 2008 to former FIFA Vice President Jack Warner of Trinidad and Tobago by a “high-ranking FIFA official” from a FIFA account in Switzerland after South Africa’s government didn’t come up with the cash.
The FIFA official allegedly paid off Warner with money that should have gone to South Africa for World Cup preparations anyway, but was re-routed to Warner, the department said.
Before that, in the years leading up to the vote, a “high-ranking official” with South Africa’s bid delivered “a briefcase containing bundles of U.S. currency in $10,000 stacks” to a family member of Warner’s, according to the indictment. The piles of money — handed over to Warner’s relative in a Paris hotel room — were taken back to Warner in his native Trinidad and Tobago, it said.
Then, months before the vote, a second South African official, also high up in the bid committee according to the allegations, was involved in conversations over a possible $10 million payment from the South African government.
The $10 million, which never materialized from South Africa, was allegedly offered to secure favor from Warner and two other voting FIFA executive committee members at the time: an American, believed to be former CONCACAF secretary general Chuck Blazer, the other from the South American soccer confederation.
The three FIFA officials later “indicated” that they voted for South Africa, the department said, when their three votes could have swung the vote in Morocco’s favor.
Warner ultimately got his money, just four years later and from a FIFA account and not the South Africans, who were “unable to arrange the payment to be made directly from government funds,” the indictment said.
The Justice Department said the “high-ranking FIFA official” made payments of $616,000, $1.6 million and $7.784 million — totaling $10 million — to an account in the U.S. controlled by Warner in January and March 2008.
Warner, forced out of FIFA in 2011 over another bribery scandal, turned himself in to police Wednesday in Trinidad under the weight of overwhelming allegations relating also to other cases. He had earlier denied any wrongdoing.
South Africa lost by one vote to Germany in the contest for the 2006 World Cup after a contentious abstention from a New Zealand official. It appears some of its bidders weren’t going to leave the next vote to chance. The two South African bid officials implicated were members of the country’s failed 2006 bid as well as the successful 2010 one, and members of the 2010 World Cup’s organizing committee, according to the indictment.
South African Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula, who was not the minister at the time of the bid, said Thursday the government was requesting a copy of the indictment from the U.S. “through diplomatic sources.”
He said all officials involved in South Africa’s bid were asked “to desist from making statements” and allow the government to deal with the allegations. He said the government was not involved in any wrongdoing over the bid.
“We have no business with Jack Warner,” Mbalula said.
Danny Jordaan, the current South African soccer head and former chief executive of the 2010 bid and World Cup organizing committee, did not respond to numerous phone calls and a text message. He also declined to comment at a news briefing relating to his appointment as mayor of his South African hometown.
The political fallout also began with the leading opposition party demanding Jordaan appear before lawmakers to answer questions on the allegations. Instead, he was expected to fly to Zurich for the FIFA congress.
Molefi Oliphant, the former South African Football Association president and a member of the 2010 bid committee, also declined to comment.
South Africa wasn’t the only country implicated in alleged vote-rigging.
“A representative of the Moroccan bid committee offered to pay $1 million to Warner” for his vote when he visited in 2004, the indictment said.
Associated Press writer Lynsey Chutel contributed to this story from Johannesburg.
Gerald Imray is on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GeraldImrayAP