Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Taking Corrupt Men Down: Blatter's Out, Zuma's Still In




The other day I met with a group of friends who were heated about something and I assumed it was about Sepp Blatter. But they were talking about South African President Jacob Zuma’s latest corruption scandal. I mentioned Blatter and somebody dismissed him, saying that Zuma affects us more closely. Well, maybe.

The ruling party, the ANC, once an organization of massive integrity, with men of towering courage leading the way towards freedom against seemingly unbreachable odds and massive crimes against humanity, is now corrupt through and through. But it has complete power, perhaps because too many South Africans still blindly believe in the PR. No matter how often politicians get caught out, there’s always more, and always the most pathetic excuses are trotted out, the message being “I don’t care. What are you going to do about it? Nobody can touch me, no matter what I do. And I know that enough people don’t want to know the truth. So bite me.”

The latest Zuma fiasco is that he spent R215 million of taxpayers’ money on ‘upgrades’ to one of his homes, Nkandla. To put that in context, R32 million was spent on President Nelson Mandela’s home. In December 2009 it was revealed that the Nkandla cost was R65 million. Zuma squirmed his way around that and carried on spending. The icing on the cake are extras that include a huge swimming pool, and Zuma’s excuse for that one is that it’s really a reservoir in case fire breaks out. The ANC spokesman did what he always does. He said we believe in our President. And Zuma says he’s done nothing wrong. As he did when he got off the charge of rape and 700 counts of fraud just before he was elected (he was Vice-President at the time). The investigation went nowhere. I remember him saying once he’d been elected President that the investigation shouldn’t be continued because it would get in the way of his work [as President].

Part of that terribly important work being, presumably, to do things like upgrade Nkandla at the tax-payers’ expense. The Guardian has the story and a telling photograph of a hut just outside Nkandla with some very poor people living in it. South African Public Prosecutor Thuli Madonsela investigated and found Zuma guilty of wrongdoing. The response? Police Minister Nathi Nhleko revised Madonsela's report and found that Zuma hadn't done anything wrong. How surprising. Was that constitutional? Nope.

It seemed, until yesterday, that there wasn’t much difference really between Zuma and Blatter. A few days prior to the FIFA elections, which Blatter was predicted to win hands down, a whole bunch of FIFA officials were arrested in a Swiss Authority dawn raid, backed by a separate FBI investigation, on the Baur au Lac five-star hotel with views of the Alps and Lake Zurich. In all 14 FIFA officials were indicted on charges of bribery (over $150 million), racketeering and money laundering. Then it was revealed that the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, awarded to Qatar and Russia respectively, might have involved bribery. 

And then that SAFA, the South African Football Association, authorized a $10 million bribe to a FIFA official to secure the 2010 World Cup. Blatter’s right-hand man, FIFA Secretary General Jérôme Valcke, was alleged to have authorized a $10 million transfer.

The British press exploded and the UEFA President Michael Platini publicly called for Blatter to resign. Blatter refused and defiantly said he’d done nothing wrong, that he couldn’t be possibly control everybody in FIFA and that to resign would be to admit that he was accountable. He completely washed his hands of all involvement. It was sickening. He was so smug about it.  

European soccer organizations and politicians were outraged and called for transparency and justice. Vladimir Putin said it was a US conspiracy. African and Asian FIFA members stood behind Blatter, not at all caring about the corruption. Blatter has done a lot for smaller member states and the assumption, I guess, was that a new person, one with integrity, might not care as much.

Interesting logic there. There was no word from Qatar and nothing from South Africa, where the speculation of this corruption has come up before and been squashed.

The elections for FIFA President went ahead. Prince Ali of Jordan, Blatter’s only competitor, should have won. He didn’t, and though he won enough votes for a second round of voting he conceded, primarily out of concern that anybody who voted for him would suffer retribution if he didn’t win. 

His sentiment was echoed by many. The British press and everybody who had any integrity kept reminding us that the FBI and Swiss investigations had just begun, and speculation about how long Blatter would last was rife. But the man was defiant, and even climbed on the US conspiracy bandwagon. Blatter and Putin, what a pair. Certainly there could have been no money changing hands there.

Well, Blatter had got away with either participating in or turning a blind eye to corruption for so long that he got a little ahead of himself. I saw his daughter being interviewed; she was wholly convinced that her father is a good man through and through. I felt sorry for her.

Her dear father must be eating his words about if how he resigned it would mean he’d done something wrong. Of course he trotted out that he really and truly and deeply cared about FIFA and all the soccer players around the world, but his speech was short and his defiance was gone. Although, I must say, he looked angry.

In a world where people with too much power abuse it and are somehow out of the reach of their victims too many times, it’s been the most rewarding news I’ve heard in a long time.  

What tipped the scales for Blatter? Again, everybody’s speculating. But now the FBI have acknowledged that he’s under active investigation. A little coincidental, methinks. Interpol have issued Red Notices for two former FIFA officials and four FIFA executives for charges including racketeering conspiracy and corruption. (A Red Notice is a notification to Interpol member countries that a member judicial authority has issued an arrest warrant and is looking for the person/s concerned.)

So here we have two huge corruption scandals in different parts of the world. One has been and is being addressed fully. The other is business as usual.  

Watching how many people spoke out on the side of truth gives me hope that integrity has a kind of power that all the corruption in the world—which is just a form of bullying—can’t ultimately overwhelm. And to see good actually triumph over evil in real time is something else. But it hasn’t happened in South Africa yet, that’s for sure.

It would be ironic and utterly delicious if the FBI’s investigation led them to Zuma somehow. It’s hard to believe that he was ignorant of the [I guess I should say ‘alleged’] $10 million bribe authorized by SAFA.