Image: FIFA presidential candidate Chung Mong-joon speaks during a news conference in Seoul, South Korea, September 3, 2015. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
By Jee Heun Kahng
SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea’s Chung Mong-joon has said he is facing a 15-year suspension by FIFA’s Ethics Committee that has “sabotaged” his campaign for the FIFA Presidency, but he denied any wrongdoing and vowed to continue his bid to lead soccer’s world governing body.
Speaking at a news conference in Seoul on Tuesday, Chung read out a nine-page statement, addressing the charges against him, which he dismissed as a ploy “to prevent me from running for the President of FIFA.”
“The fundamental reason why I am being targeted is that I aimed straight at the existing power structure of FIFA,” Chung said.
Bound by confidentiality rules, FIFA’s Ethics Committee has not made any statements on Chung’s case and there was no immediate response to his comments on Tuesday.
Chung said he was being charged with violating six articles from FIFA’s Code of Ethics, which he said stemmed from his “support” for South Korea’s 2022 World Cup bid and his proposal to launch a Global Football Fund (GFF).
“Ethics committee is not charging me with criminal offense, and it is not charging me with ‘bribery,’ ‘corruption’ or ‘conflict of interest,’ he said.
“All that the ethics committee is relying on is that I have not fully ‘cooperated’ or ‘collaborated’ with the investigation and that I had violated ‘confidentiality’ requirements.”
Chung said his proposals for the establishment of a GFF were in line with FIFA’s rules at the time and had already been investigated and cleared.
He provided copies of two letters, dated 10 Nov. 2010 and signed by former FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valcke, stating that FIFA agreed the integrity of the bidding process had not been affected so the matter was deemed closed.
“Yet the Ethics Committee has now asked for 15 years of sanction for this,” Chung said.
“With the campaign season starting, even issues that had been closed many years ago, have a way of being revived.”
The scion of Korea’s Hyundai industrial conglomerate, Chung vowed to fight the charges, adding “ultimately, I will prevail and will be vindicated.”
In November, Chung was named in FIFA’s Ethics report into the bidding process for the World Cups in 2018 and 2022, in which South Korea made a bid to host.
The report followed an investigation led by U.S. lawyer Michael Garcia and looked into letters that Chung sent, in late 2010, to FIFA executive committee members about a proposal to establish a GFF for soccer development.
“According to those letters, Korea intended to raise US$777 million from 2011 to build new football infrastructure and renovate existing facilities,” said the report, which added that the fund was linked to South Korea’s 2022 bid.
“There was nothing unusual about GFF. The GFF was perfectly in line with the football development projects that FIFA asked every bidding country to propose as part of their bid requirement,” Chung said.
“No money or personal favours were exchanged in relation to GFF and no such charges were made against me.”
Chung, a 63-year-old billionaire who previously served as a FIFA vice-president, formally announced in August that he was running for the FIFA presidency.
The incumbent, Sepp Blatter, is to stand down in February.
Blatter has run FIFA for the past 17 years and recently become the focus of a criminal investigation but has denied any wrongdoing and has not been charged.
Chung has been heavily critical of Blatter, saying from the outset that he feared his own presidential campaign would be undermined, describing the Ethics Committee as Blatter’s “hitman”.
“The true danger is that they are not only sabotaging my candidacy. They are sabotaging FIFA’s election and FIFA itself,” Chung said.
“As preposterous as it may sound, there are media reports that Mr. Blatter plans to stay on as President once all the presidential candidates are forced out.
“However, the election is in danger of being turned into a farce.”
FIFA’s awarding of the 2018 and 2022 competitions to Russia and Qatar is just one of the strands under scrutiny from U.S. and Swiss authorities investigating corruption in the organisation that run’s the world’s most popular sport.
Scandals surrounding global soccer exploded in May, when 14 soccer officials and sports marketing executives were indicted on U.S. charges of racketeering, money laundering and wire fraud in relation to bribery schemes that dated back decades.
Last month, Blatter’s right hand man Valcke was suspended following accusations regarding ticket sales at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Valcke denies any wrongdoing.
A week later, Swiss prosecutors opened a criminal investigation into Blatter on suspicion of mismanagement and misappropriation of funds.
Some of soccer’s major sponsors have since issued calls for the immediate resignation of Blatter but the 79-year-old has responded by saying he would not quit.
“In June, the European Parliament urged Blatter to resign. Recently, it was joined by the British government and some of FIFA’s sponsors. I appreciate their efforts,” Chung said.
“But they are friends of football, not the constituents of FIFA. The constituents of FIFA are the national associations.
“Therefore, it is not right for national association to remain bystanders. FIFA is much sicker than it looks.”
(Writing by Julian Linden in Singapore; Editing by Greg Stutchbury)
Copyright 2015 Thomson Reuters. Click for Restrictions.