FIFA sent out a surprising news release early Monday, saying that its secretary general, Jerome Valcke, would not be attending a women's World Cup news conference Thursday in Vancouver, Canada, because he had to attend to matters at FIFA's headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland.
A few hours later, the New York Times explained what those matters might be, reporting federal authorities believe Valcke was behind the $10 million in bank transactions that are at the center of international soccer's bribery and corruption scandal.
Last week the Department of Justice unsealed a 47-count indictment against nine high-ranking soccer officials with ties to FIFA, the sport's international governing body. Five sports marketing executives were also charged in a bribery scheme that involved kickbacks worth $150 million.
Swiss authorities have seized evidence and are pursuing their own investigation in Zurich.
The Times said federal officials and others briefed on the case claim Valcke, FIFA President Sepp Blatter's top lieutenant, is the man identified in the indictments as a "high-ranking FIFA official." According to prosecutors, in 2008 that official moved $10 million from FIFA accounts to ones controlled by Jack Warner, president of CONCACAF, the regional federation that oversees soccer in North America, Central America and the Caribbean.
The officials and others who identified Valcke spoke to the Times on condition of anonymity, the newspaper said, because they are not authorized to speak about the ongoing investigation.
Valcke was not named in the indictment and has not been accused of a crime. But if the link proves true, it would take the scandal into the highest reaches of FIFA's corporate structure, one step away from Blatter himself who has denied any knowledge or involvement in wrongdoing. Blatter, who is reportedly being investigated separately by Swiss police, was elected to a fifth term as FIFA president last week.
The payment to Warner is central to accusations the Trinidadian soccer leader took money is exchange of helping South Africa win the right to stage the 2010 World Cup. The indictment does not say the unnamed FIFA official knew the money was being used as a bribe.
The Times said Danny Jordaan, who directed South Africa's World Cup bid and is now president of the country's soccer federation, has claimed the money was a legitimate payment into a soccer development fund in the Caribbean.
Valcke, the Times reported, said he did not authorize the payment and did not have the power to do so.