As South African law enforcement officials launched a preliminary investigation into allegations that the nation paid a $10-million bribe to secure its role as FIFA’s 2010 World Cup host, the meme of the day Thursday in South Africa was #DenyEverything.
South African Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula last week denied a $10-million payment to anyone, but after a leaked letter surfaced in the British media Tuesday, he confirmed a payment. He acknowledged Wednesday that the money was paid to a leading FIFA official, reportedly to administer a soccer development program, and vehemently denied that it was a bribe.
Embarrassingly, hours after Mbalula’s statement at a news conference, it emerged in U.S. court documents unsealed Wednesday that former FIFA executive Chuck Blazer had acknowledged that he and others had taken bribes in relation to South Africa’s selection to host the 2010 World Cup.
An opposition lawmaker, Anton Alberts, said Thursday that he had referred the FBI indictment on the alleged $10-million South African bribe to investigators at the country’s Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation, known as the Hawks, which carries out investigations into corruption, racketeering, gangs and other major crime.
Alberts said he made the referral because there was no indication that South African law enforcement officials had any intention of taking action on the bribery allegation. He said “various sources,” including people on the local organizing committee to host the World Cup, had since come forward with further information, which he planned to submit to the Hawks.
“No case was opened in South Africa and there was no certainty that there would actually be an investigation in South Africa,” he told South African television, “so what we did from our side is we officially opened a case with the Hawks to actually liaise with the FBI and the other authorities to make sure that the case is investigated and that there might be no political interference from anywhere else to stunt any possible investigation going forward.”
Thursday on Twitter, South Africans poked fun at Mbalula’s denials.
“When? 2010? Where? Here?...I'll go draft a report, Brb. #DenyEverything,” tweeted Mthwa Chatsane.
“WC was awarded to Sous Africa not the Republic of South Africa. It’s like DRC and Congo very similar. #DenyEverything,” one South African tweeted.
“After twenty nine comes thirty. What is this Twenty Ten you speak of? #DenyEverything,” went another tweet as the meme trended Thursday.
“South Africa, North Africa, East Africa. These are directions. FBI must tell us which country exactly hosted this 2010 WC. #DenyEverything,” tweeted a user with the handle Nchema.
A 2008 letter from Molefi Oliphant, then president of the South African Football Assn., to Jerome Valcke, the FIFA secretary-general, asked FIFA to reduce its payment by $10 million and to pay the money instead to FIFA official Jack Warner via the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Assn. Football (CONCACAF). The letter said South Africa wanted to set up a “diaspora legacy program” that would be administered by Warner. South Africa’s funding for the hosting the cup was then reduced by $10 million.
Mbalula, the sports minister, has yet to explain why the $10-million payment made to CONCACAF to support football in the Caribbean wasn’t announced at the time.
“We refuse to be caught in the middle of a battle between FIFA and the U.S. authorities,” Mbalula said at Wednesday’s news conference. “We will not be collateral damage in the battles in the geopolitical space.”
He said South Africa couldn’t have known FIFA officials would turn out to be corrupt. “You must understand when we are organizing the World Cup we are not dealing with gangsters, we are dealing with people. The fact that later they are termed as gangsters, we didn't know that. We are not sniffer dogs to check everybody.”
He refused to name the South African officials suspected of involvement, saying there would be “no kangaroo courts.”
A spokesman for the Hawks, Brig. Hangwani Mulaudzi, told local media that the organization had not yet received details of the FBI investigation from U.S. authorities and no formal investigation had been launched.
“However, we can confirm that we have received documents from Freedom Front Plus, a political party in South Africa, concerning the FIFA issues and we have opened an inquiry file so that we investigate contents of the documents,” he said.