Federal authorities believe that Sepp Blatter’s top lieutenant at FIFA made $10 million in bank transactions that are central elements of the bribery scandal engulfing international soccer, United States officials and others briefed on the case said Monday. The revelation puts the money trail closer to Mr. Blatter, FIFA’s president, than had been previously known.
Jérôme Valcke, the soccer organization’s secretary general, is the unidentified “high-ranking FIFA official” who prosecutors say transferred $10 million in 2008 from FIFA to accounts controlled by another soccer official, Jack Warner, the officials said. The payment is a key piece of last week’s indictment accusing Mr. Warner of taking a bribe in exchange for helping South Africa secure the right to host the 2010 World Cup.
The indictment does not say that the high-ranking official knew that the money was being used as a bribe and, unlike many other FIFA officials and marketing executives, Mr. Valcke is not identified as a co-conspirator in the document. Danny Jordaan, the chief executive of South Africa’s World Cup bid and the current president of its soccer federation, has said the money was not a bribe but a legitimate payment into a soccer development fund in the Caribbean.
Mr. Valcke, who said in a brief email that he had not authorized the payment and did not have the power to do so, has not been charged or accused of wrongdoing.
Mr. Valcke and Mr. Blatter are the two top officials in FIFA, an organization that has more than $1 billion in the bank and generates billions more each year. Mr. Valcke’s involvement is sure to raise more questions about what Mr. Blatter knew about the money transfer. The officials and others who identified Mr. Valcke spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the investigation.
Mr. Valcke’s statement that he did not authorize the wire transfer does not directly address whether he was involved. The indictment says the unidentified official “caused” the payments to be made. And a spokeswoman for FIFA, Delia Fischer, said the chairman of the finance committee at the time, Julio Grondona, authorized the payment. Mr. Grondona died last year. Ms. Fischer said the payment was “executed in accordance with the Organisation Regulations.”
Those regulations say the secretary general is responsible for maintaining the organization’s accounts and has the authority to make transactions.
Federal prosecutors in Brooklyn brought charges last week against 14 soccer officials and marketing executives accused of corrupting FIFA, the governing body of international soccer. United States authorities have said more charges are expected and have promised to rid the organization of corruption.
The $10 million payment, made in three wire transfers in January and March 2008, is described in the indictment in paragraph No. 192 and has prompted questions about which top FIFA executive was responsible. “Definitely that is not me,” Mr. Blatter said last week after he was re-elected as FIFA’s president and reporters asked if he was the unidentified official. “I have no $10 million.”
The charges, which were unsealed last Wednesday morning in United States District Court in Brooklyn, coupled with the arrests at dawn of several high-ranking FIFA officials at a luxury hotel in Zurich, were stunning even by the standards of international soccer, which has been dogged by allegations of corruption for years. Swiss authorities also raided FIFA’s headquarters as part of a separate investigation into how FIFA chose the host countries for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.
Mr. Valcke, of France, has previously been involved in financial controversy. He joined FIFA in 2003 as its marketing director but was fired in December 2006 after a New York judge ruled that he and others lied repeatedly in negotiations with MasterCard and Visa over a sponsorship deal.
“The fact cannot be overlooked that FIFA’s negotiations breached its business principles,” FIFA said in its news release at the time. “FIFA cannot possibly accept such conduct among its own employees.”
A federal appeals court threw out the ruling the next May. The next month, days after FIFA reached a settlement with MasterCard, Mr. Blatter chose Mr. Valcke to be secretary general, the organization’s No. 2 post. Mr. Valcke was never charged with a crime in that case.
In an interview with the Sunday Independent, a South African newspaper, Mr. Jordaan said the timing of the payment proved that it could not have been a bribe. “How could we have paid a bribe for votes four years after we had won the bid?” he said.
American prosecutors, however, say the bribery scheme played out over several years. In 2004, as FIFA’s executive committee considered where to host the 2010 World Cup, South Africa’s government agreed to pay Mr. Warner and others $10 million in exchange for their votes, according to the indictment.
Mr. Warner voted for South Africa, but in the months and years after the vote, South Africa was unable to pay. So rather than take a payment directly from South Africa, the indictment says, FIFA itself paid Mr. Warner in 2008, using money that would otherwise have gone to South Africa to support the World Cup.
In effect, the indictment says the bribe was paid on the back end of the deal, so South Africa received $10 million less from FIFA than it otherwise would have.
Mr. Jordaan said the money was sent to the accounts of Concacaf, a FIFA entity that oversees soccer in North and Central America, as part of South Africa’s effort to support soccer there. Mr. Warner was Concacaf’s president at the time and controlled the accounts. Prosecutors say he took much of the $10 million for his personal use. Mr. Warner has maintained his innocence and said the United States brought the charges because it lost the bidding to host the 2022 World Cup.
FIFA announced Monday that, “due to the current situation,” Mr. Valcke would not attend the opening of the Women’s World Cup in Canada next week. “It is important that he attends to matters at FIFA’s headquarters in Zurich,” the organization said in a news release.