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Home » Sport » Football

Sepp Blatter adviser accused of altering report

One of Sepp Blatter’s closest advisers has been accused of suggesting pre-publication changes to an independent report into Fifa reform in order to cast its president in a better light.

According to emails published by Der Spiegel, a report by Mark Pieth, a professor of criminal law at Basel University, was altered as a result of interventions by Fifa’s chief lawyer, Marco Villiger.

Blatter engaged Pieth in the wake of his 2011 victory in the Fifa presidential election to prepare the ground for a “roadmap” of reform, casting himself as the man to repair the battered reputation of world football’s governing body.

Pieth chaired an independent governance committee that published its final report in April last year. In it he claimed progress had been made on key areas of governance reform but called for further progress on the introduction of term limits, integrity checks for Fifa executive committee members and more transparency on salaries.

Pieth mostly blamed the lack of progress on those issues on Uefa and praised Blatter in media interviews given to support the publication of the final report, after which the committee was disbanded. “The prospects for reform are probably at their greatest if Blatter wins more time,” he said.

The claims in Der Spiegel suggest Villiger, Fifa’s director of legal affairs, saw a draft copy of the report two months before it was published and suggested numerous changes to remove references to the Fifa president and the ISL bribery affair.

“All references to the ISL case are unnecessary,” he wrote. “We do not understand what can be gained from referring to the ISL case in the report, especially on such an epic scale.”

The conclusions of an earlier report by the Fifa ethics committee had ruled that Blatter had been “clumsy” rather than “criminal” in handling a $1m fine meant for João Havelange as part of long-running $100m backhanders scheme.

Villiger crossed out two lengthy passages dealing with the ISL affair. One concerned Blatter’s position of responsibility: “In addition to this problem, there is also the fact that president Blatter held the prominent position of general secretary at the time when ISL/ISMM was having business dealings with Fifa and when the bribes were supposed to have been paid.”

The following paragraph concerned Blatter’s possible role as an accessory: “It must be asked whether, during the years before ISL collapsed, president Blatter knew or should have known that ISL had made payments (bribes) to Fifa officials.”

Both passages were missing from the report published on 22 April.

At one point Pieth had written that successful reform depended “on a change of culture at all levels of the organisation, starting at the top”. Villiger wrote in the margin: “Do you mean to say Fifa needs a new leader? Fifa is led by the president, whom you recognise as being a key figure in the reforms.”

Pieth deleted the express reference to Blatter’s responsibilities from his final report, instead referring to “opinion leaders, who must set a good example”. Where Pieth referred to “scandals”, Villiger substituted “previous cases”.

The revelations are damaging for Blatter because they appear to confirm the suspicion he was subverting the supposedly independent reform process for his own ends.

In justifying his decision to run again for another four-year term as president despite having promised to stand down, Blatter has spoken of the fact his “mission” is not yet complete.

Three Uefa-backed opponents are standing against Blatter: the Dutch FA president, Michael van Praag, the former world player of the year Luís Figo and the Jordanian royal Prince Ali.

In a statement Fifa said “no unfair influence was exerted” and that while Blatter knew about the comments sent to Pieth on his behalf by Villiger it was “standard procedure in tasks of this nature for auditors and advisers to first submit their reports to their clients in order for facts and any comments to be examined”.

It said that the comments did not stem from Villiger but were based on the input of several Fifa directors. Pieth’s committee had the final say on the wording, it said, and pointed out that of 37 suggested changes only five were taken up.

Pieth told Der Spiegel it had been a “strategic decision” to accept the proposed deletions since “Blatter was key to the continuing implementation of the reforms”. It was decided not to point the finger as individuals because the priority was systemic change.

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