The bane of the powerful

2009-10-31 15:17

“HERR Blatter, have you ever taken a bribe?”

No one would ever dare ask Fifa president Sepp Blatter such a question, unless the questioner’s name is that of ­investigative journalist Andrew ­Jennings.

The question would later result in Jennings being banned from Blatter’s media conferences.

But that would not deter Jennings in his campaign to keep on probing the Fifa leadership and continue asking Blatter why he hadn’t taken action against people who were proven to have taken bribes.

How much is Blatter’s salary and how much does he earn in bonuses and allowances?

Jennings, who is based in England, is one of the few daring journalists who have written extensively about the inner workings of the world football controlling body, and at 64 his pen is not about to dry up.

“I will run with Fifa through to the 2010 World Cup and might write a shortish book just before the World Cup,” he said.
Jennings was one of the speakers at the African Investigative Journalism Conference at Wits University this week, where he mesmerised delegates from 20 different countries with his intriguing stories on how he got Blatter hot under the ­collar.

After an hour of what seemed a never-ending story, the delegates were left asking for more as Jennings narrated anecdotes about the secret world of Fifa.

He showed his uncompromising line in questioning when he followed Blatter from outside his offices and shoved a microphone into his face, asking: “Why don’t you take ­action against those who have been proved to have taken bribes?” – to which Blatter did not respond.

He said if salaries of ministers and presidents all over the world were known, why not Blatter’s?

Jennings comes across as a simple-looking man in his early 60s and prefers simple clothing, a photographer’s jacket; but what comes out of his mouth is explosive.

The author of five books – Scotland Yard’s Cocaine Connection (1989), The Lords of the Rings (1992), The New Lords of the Rings (1996), The Great Olympic Swindle (2000), and FOUL! The Secret World of Fifa: Bribes, Vote-Rigging and Ticket Scandals (2006) – said he could not understand why people were afraid to challenge Blatter and other ­leaders.

“It’s a global culpability,” he said. “I am very fortunate that I have a lot of experience in investigative reporting and I know what it takes to get to the bottom of a story. It is about determination, because if you really want to do something it is ­possible and you will strive for it.

“I don’t just give up, and if I see something bad it is my duty to ­report about it.”

Is it personal?

No ways, he says.

“It’s just a job and you must never let it get personal. I know there are police after me, checking my phone records and bank accounts, but I am not worried because I am clean.”

How does Jennings feel after ­exposing corruption?

“It is a job done and just another story of public importance. We have to do it because that is what the public expect. It is for us to dig out and I am happy that I have helped the world to grow the understanding of how Fifa really is.”

He says he has always been outraged by corruption, not only in soccer but in diamond smuggling and arms deals, because it bleeds countries and organisations.

His take on African leaders?

“There are people Africa can do without,” he said.

Jennings said there had been two attempts made to bribe him.

“I just don’t do bribery. I don’t want their dirty money because I can afford to feed my family. I am not a rich man, but my wife and kids live well,” said the father of two young girls.

He was banned for six years by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) after exposing its corruption.

Asked if there was any scandal ­behind South Africa winning the bid to host next year’s World Cup, he said: “I investigated how they didn’t get it in 2006 and I found out that they were bribed out of the ­competition. What you must investigate is the allegations that all four African delegates did not vote for South Africa.” But Jennings did not elaborate any further.

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