But according to reports that first surfaced Monday in the New York Times and were fleshed out by the Guardian and others, the high-ranking FIFA official who approved the $10 million payment is Jerome Valcke, the organization’s secretary general who is widely seen as President Sepp Blatter’s right-hand man.
The payment in question goes back to 2004, when FIFA was deciding where to host the 2010 World Cup, eventually voting on South Africa. According to U.S. prosecutors, the South African government promised to pay Warner and others $10 million to secure their votes. But the government failed to come up with the money, so FIFA stepped in to make the payment to Warner itself in 2008, deducting the funds from the money awarded to South Africa as part of the operating budget for the 2010 World Cup.
FIFA released a statement after the Times published its story on Monday, denying that Valcke or Blatter “were involved in the initiation, approval and implementation of the above project,” and Valcke himself said in an e-mail to the Times that he did not authorize the payment and did not have the power to do so.
However, the Press Association in England then published a letter sent from the South African Football Association to Valcke in 2008, which contained instructions on how the money should be paid: To a “Diaspora Legacy Programme” account controlled by Warner.
U.S. prosecutors say the $10 million was then transferred to Warner’s personal accounts, with $750,000 of it eventually going to Chuck Blazer, Warner’s deputy and like Warner a member of FIFA’s executive committee, the body that votes on where the World Cup is held.
Blazer is cooperating with U.S. prosecutors in exchange for a lesser sentence after he pleaded guilty to 10 charges — including bribery, fraud and money laundering — in 2011.
Despite the letter addressed to Valcke, FIFA said in a statement released Tuesday that he was not involved in the payment to Warner. Rather, it said the payment was authorized by Julio Grondona of Argentina, the former chairman of FIFA’s finance committee who is described by the Guardian as a “long-time ally of president Sepp Blatter.”
Grondona died in 2014.