BASEL, Switzerland — Sepp Blatter says publicly accusing him of staying silent while likely knowing that senior officials in the Americas were corrupt is “not acceptable.”
Speaking at an event on Friday, former International Criminal Court prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo alleged the former FIFA president knew about corruption in CONCACAF and CONMEBOL.
“I am not guilty,” the visibly angry former FIFA president later told reporters at the University of Basel in his native Switzerland.
Blatter had been the key speaker in a two-hour debate with a mostly student audience on problems facing world football’s scandal-hit governing body.
After Blatter again blamed officials in the North and South American football bodies for corruption, the session closed with the claim made by Ocampo.
“All those people arrested in Zurich or other countries are Americans from the North and South,” Blatter said.
However, Ocampo suggested Blatter had known about the bribery which U.S. federal prosecutors revealed last May in a sprawling indictment that rocked FIFA in its presidential election week.
“The real problem with Mr. Blatter is that he had nothing to do with CONCACAF and CONMEBOL, but he knew,” said Ocampo, once a candidate to be FIFA’s lead ethics investigator.
“Even [if] he was not involved, why was he silent?” the Argentine lawyer told the audience of about 400 people, claiming that “probably [Blatter] knew and he decided to stay in silence.”
Ocampo also said Blatter likely knew — and said nothing — about misconduct implicating long-time FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke, who has denied any wrongdoing.
Blatter’s right-hand man since 2007 was fired by FIFA in January, banned for 12 years by the ethics committee and is the subject of criminal proceedings opened last month by Switzerland’s attorney general.
Blatter said he was “very unhappy” with the accusation by Ocampo, who is a visiting lecturer at Harvard University.
“It is not acceptable. It is not acceptable,” Blatter told reporters. “I was very surprised at Mr. Ocampo invited here for this seminar and then to make such an accusation. Perhaps he is a little bit disappointed because he was the first candidate to be the chair of the ethics committee.”
In 2012, Ocampo was proposed to be FIFA’s first ethics prosecutor by a FIFA advisory group led by Swiss law professor Mark Pieth, who organized Friday’s event.
Ocampo’s appointment was blocked, reportedly due to the influence of then-FIFA senior vice president Julio Grondona of Argentina, who died in 2014 and has since been linked to the bribery conspiracy. Instead, FIFA picked Michael Garcia, the former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York.
Blatter was forced out after more than 17 years as FIFA president by the scandal. He announced his resignation plans last June, days after the U.S. Department of Justice unsealed an indictment alleging a sprawling bribery and money laundering conspiracy implicating international football leaders.
In a widening investigation by American and Swiss federal prosecutors, Blatter was suspended from duty and then banned by the ethics committee after Swiss prosecutors opened criminal proceedings against him for suspected criminal mismanagement.
Blatter is currently awaiting a hearing date at the Court of Arbitration for Sport to appeal against a six-year ban by FIFA.
“I think it will be the beginning of May but I don’t know,” the 80-year-old Blatter said Friday.
Blatter, who is not facing charges in the U.S., also said he’d be available to “defend FIFA” if called on to speak about his efforts to fight corruption in the organization.
“I am still defending FIFA in cases which are actually in court. I am fighting corruption as well,” Blatter said. “[FIFA’s] efforts to fight corruption were stopped.
“I regret I have not done enough to bring FIFA back on the right track. I take responsibility but inside FIFA with the national associations we have put a lot of barriers to stop corruption, bribery.
“Both the [FIFA] ethics committee and appeal committee say in the case where I am suspended there is no bribery or corruption with the president of FIFA.”
Blatter spent over an hour on the platform but was interrupted just moments after starting to speak by protesters in the auditorium chanting and blowing whistles, which drew the response, “shame on you” from the former head of FIFA.
Later in the debate, live-streamed by the university, a delegate claiming to be from the university’s Marxist Society stood up and said he was making an intervention demanding, among other things, full FIFA transparency.
Blatter offered no response but his challenger received warm applause from the assembled attendees.
On the matter of racism in football, Blatter called for tougher punishments.
“In racism we haven’t had the courage so far – just deduct points or eliminate a team in a cup competition,” he added.
“No one has done it because they don’t have the courage to do so.
“If you have racism in a game then eliminate the club or national association from the competition for one year and then it will end.”