By GRAHAM DUNBAR, Associated Press
ZURICH (AP) — FIFA will change the way it investigates corruption and is prepared to examine any "credible" evidence of past wrongdoing, president Sepp Blatter said Friday.
Hailing a "historic day for FIFA's reform process" after a series of scandals, Blatter said it would revamp its ethics committee to create separate investigating and prosecuting units with new, independent leaders.
Blatter said the proposal presented by FIFA's anti-corruption adviser Mark Pieth got strong backing from his executive committee, some of whom have recently been cleared of corruption allegations by the existing — and often maligned — ethics body.
"Unanimously they agreed to this new approach in our, let's say, efforts for more transparency and integrity," Blatter said at a news conference announcing efforts in a promised two-year drive to clean up the world soccer body.
Still, Pieth's sharp criticism of FIFA's past investigative failings was not directly addressed and the timetable for much of his suggested reform program was pushed to 2013.
FIFA's reputation has been rocked by claims of bribery and vote-rigging that marred FIFA's presidential election campaign last year and voting in 2010 for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.
The credibility of Blatter's organization was also harmed when the existing, single-chamber ethics committee failed to gather enough evidence to prosecute some allegations.
"FIFA has ... shown a lack of pro-active and systematic follow-up on allegations," Pieth wrote in a report submitted to FIFA on behalf of his 13-member expert panel advising on transparency and clean government. "In some instances, allegations were insufficiently investigated."
The revamped ethics court could start work immediately after being approved by FIFA's 208 member nations in May.
"The new ethics committee will have the possibility to initiate investigation in case of credible allegations," Blatter said.
Pieth, a former United Nations investigator, recommended in his report that the new ethics body's "procedures and organizational measures will be applicable to past behavior."
One of Pieth's fundamental demands looks likely to be met, with FIFA set to allow outsiders unconnected to Blatter's so-called "football family" to oversee the judicial process. They will also have power to screen potential FIFA officials for integrity.
FIFA said Pieth will choose three candidates — which he suggested should be "truly independent persons of high standing and expertise" —to chair each of the investigative and judging chambers. Member countries will vote at the May 25 congress in Budapest, Hungary.
FIFA also will ask its congress to approve an audit and compliance committee exerting tighter financial controls on the world governing body, which shares much of its billion-dollar income with its member federations.
FIFA did not immediately accept Pieth's suggestion that the audit committee should decide, and publish, the president's salary.
On Friday, FIFA announced it made a profit of $36 million in 2011 and increased its reserves to $1.3 billion.
FIFA also is setting aside $100 million to insure the salaries of all players against injury on official national team duty. FIFA says the policy should take effect on Sept. 1, and will cover all matches played on FIFA international calendar dates.
Blatter said the congress also should choose FIFA's first female member of the executive committee, which is currently a 24-man panel. The member is expected to be voted by acclaim at the 2013 FIFA Congress.
Pieth's panel appears to have much work remaining to oversee FIFA's overhaul in the next 14 months.
Pieth's team includes former Watergate investigator Michael Hershman, Britain's former attorney-general Peter Goldsmith and Alexandra Wrage, a Canadian expert in anti-bribery compliance.
They are monitoring three FIFA task forces whose detailed work relating to statutes, transparency and compliance, and ethics was largely glossed over Friday in Blatter's news conference.
A newly drafted code of ethics for soccer officials, referenced in Pieth's report, and his proposal to limit all executive committee members to two, four-year terms also were stalled.
FIFA's former anti-corruption partner Transparency International said in a statement that Blatter's organization had failed to follow through on its promises.
"We are disappointed. We had expected a more comprehensive introduction of new procedures," said TI's sports adviser Sylvia Schenk, who walked away from FIFA's process last November. "Too much is still unclear and key issues, such as investigations into the past allegations of corruption, have not been properly addressed."
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.