A few weeks before FIFA held a secret ballot to choose the 2010 soccer World Cup host, Jack Warner invited one of the other 23 voters from soccer’s governing body into his suite at the Savoy Baur en Ville hotel in Zurich.
Warner was supporting Morocco, and in a 15-minute conversation, the Caribbean soccer boss asked Tonga’s Ahongalu Fusimalohi to switch from South Africa to Morocco as well because the North African country needed the tournament to lift it out of poverty, according to Fusimalohi. By the day of the vote, Warner’s position had changed, and he was telling executives at FIFA’s headquarters he would back South Africa, Fusimalohi said.
“We were all hyped up, we all knew each other” and discussed who we’d vote for minutes before the ballot, Fusimalohi said, adding Warner made no mention of why he switched sides. South Africa won the 2004 vote 14-10, leaving Warner delighted, Fusimalohi said.
According to a May 27 indictment by U.S. prosecutors, Warner accepted an offer arranged by “high-ranking” FIFA officials and South African authorities for the Caribbean Football Union to receive $10 million in return for him and two other executives voting for South Africa in 2004, trumping a $1 million offer from Morocco. South African officials say the payment was a soccer development grant. FIFA general secretary Jerome Valcke said the ruling body did nothing more than make a bank transfer on behalf of South Africa. Moroccan officials have said they didn’t offer bribes. Warner denies wrongdoing.
Fusimalohi, the former general secretary of Tonga’s soccer federation, is no longer involved in the sport. He was banned for two years by the governing body in 2010 for ethics breaches including not reporting illicit approaches. He lost his $150,000 FIFA stipend which he says made him a bigger earner than that country’s prime minister.
U.S. prosecutors last month charged Warner, a 72-year-old politician, and seven more soccer officials on charges including bribery and racketeering dating back to the 1990s.
Warner said May 29 that he knows nothing of the charges, adding he was being indicted “by the U.S. for crimes committed in Zurich.” He suggested Americans are bitter after losing a bid to Qatar to host the 2022 World Cup. He didn’t return an e-mail about the 2010 tournament vote, and ignored a question about it from a reporter in Trinidad and Tobago, where he lives. A woman who answered the phone at Warner’s house said she couldn’t take a message for him.
During their hotel-suite chat, Fusimalohi said he humored Warner by saying he would reconsider his vote, but didn’t change his mind. On returning to his room to get his jacket before joining his wife and son for dinner, the Tongan official found a note slipped under the door.
The anonymous note said a vote for Morocco to organize World Cup “stood to benefit him by 150K,” according to his recollection.
“I just tore it up and threw it in the rubbish bin, I never even told my wife,” Fusimalohi said, adding he never discussed the note with Warner or Moroccan bid officials and doesn’t know who wrote it.
In a 2010 conversation the Sunday Times secretly filmed and posted on its website last week, Fusimalohi told the newspaper’s reporters he’d received a $150,000 offer to vote for Morocco but wasn’t going to risk his career for “small-time petty cash money.”
South African Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula said June 3 that the $10 million payment to the Caribbean Football Union wasn’t a bribe, but a way to develop soccer. According to the indictment, South Africa was unable to pay the money from public funds. Officials arranged for FIFA to deduct the money from the 2010 World Cup organizing budget and wire it from a FIFA account in Switzerland to a Bank of America account in New York controlled by Warner.
FIFA confirmed the bank transaction in a statement but Valcke on June 6 said the ruling body otherwise had nothing to do with the payment.
At the 2004 secret vote, Fusimalohi said he marked a cross on the top of his ballot paper at the FIFA HQ just in case there was any dispute about who he’d voted for. The executives then made their way to a ceremony at Zurich’s World Trade Center, where Blatter opened an envelope to show South Africa would be the 2010 host.
From there, Fusimalohi jumped in a limousine with Warner and his wife to return to their hotel, he said.
Warner was very happy, Fusimalohi said. “He kept saying: that’s great, that’s great.”