SEOUL: (Reuters) FIFA presidential candidate Chung Mong-joon said on Wednesday that payments he made to Haiti and Pakistan in 2010 were “charitable donations” and any attempt to use them as part of a reported ethics investigation was “cynical and unethical”.
Responding to media reports that world football’s governing body was investigating the South Korean billionaire over the ‘disaster relief’ funds, Chung said in a statement he had been donating money to causes at home and abroad since the 1990s.
“Recent media reports allege that FIFA has started an investigation into FIFA Honorary Vice President Dr. Chung Mong-Joon’s 2010 donations to disaster relief funds to Haiti and Pakistan,” said the statement.
“If these reports are true, we condemn this as a cynical and unethical effort by FIFA to misrepresent even charitable donations for political manipulation.”
FIFA’s ethics committee declined to comment on the matter, following their policy of not discussing any cases, or potential cases.
It is not the first time that Chung’s name has been raised in a potential ethics case.
In November, Chung featured in FIFA’s Ethics report into the bidding process for the World Cup in 2018 and 2022, in which South Korea made a bid to host.
The report followed an investigation led by US lawyer Michael Garcia and looked into letters that Chung sent, in late 2010, to FIFA executive committee members about a proposal to establish a “Global Football Fund” supporting football 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.
The Ethics report concluded that: “There are certain indications of potentially problematic conduct of specific individuals in the light of relevant FIFA Ethics rules.”
It added that FIFA ethics judge Hans-Joachim Eckert “trusts that the Investigatory Chamber will take appropriate steps if it deems such measures appropriate and feasible.”
A spokesman for Cornel Borbely, head of the Investigatory Chamber, declined to comment on whether any such steps had been taken.
Chung, the scion of Korea’s Hyundai industrial conglomerate, told Reuters in an interview on July 30, when he stated his intention to stand for FIFA president, that he feared outgoing president Sepp Blatter might try to sabotage his bid.
“I’m afraid president Blatter has a kind of plan to damage my candidacy, but if he tries to do something bad to my candidacy I will try to fight that,” he said in the interview.
Chung formally launched his bid to replace the Swiss as FIFA president in Paris earlier this week with a stinging attack on Blatter and Michel Platini, head of European soccer’s ruling body UEFA and a rival candidate for the FIFA presidency.
Blatter responded by saying he was “disturbed” by Chung’s criticism, noting the South Korea had been an influential member of FIFA for 17 years until 2011.
All candidates for FIFA president need the nominations of five football associations and so far there have been no public declarations of support for the South Korean. Candidates also need to pass an integrity check carried out by FIFA.
Chung’s fledgling bid suffered a blow last week when the head of his own Asian Football Confederation, Sheikh Salman Bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa of Bahrain, announced he would be supporting Michel Platini.
FIFA will hold an elective congress on Feb. 26 to decide on a replacement for Blatter, who is standing down following the organisation’s corruption scandals.
U.S. prosecutors indicted nine soccer officials, most of whom had FIFA positions, and five marketing and broadcasting company executives, in May over a range of alleged offences, including fraud, money-laundering and racketeering.
Blatter was re-elected for a fifth term as FIFA president on May 29, but four days later said he would lay down his mandate amid the worst crisis in the body’s history.
Chung said in the statement he had provided relief assistance to many different countries including Turkey, Bangladesh, China and Myanmar.
“As chairman of the Asan Foundation, the largest philanthropic organization in Korea, Dr. Chung also helped the foundation provide medical assistance to victims of the Indonesian tsunami, 2005 Pakistan earthquake, and Sri Lankan tsunami,” the statement said.
“In January 2010, as chairman of the ruling Grand National Party in the Korean National Assembly, Dr. Chung also announced at a party meeting he would personally donate money to earthquake relief efforts in Haiti.”