FIFA president Sepp Blatter knew nothing about bribes paid to his predecessor Joao Havelange by now defunct marketing partner ISL until after the company collapsed in 2001, he said in a newspaper interview.
"I did not know until later, after the collapse of ISL in 2001, about the bribery," the head of soccer's world governing body told Swiss newspaper SonntagsBlick in an interview to be published on Sunday.
"It was FIFA who then filed a claim at that time and set the whole ISL case in motion," he added, referring to May 29 2001 when, after ISL collapsed, FIFA filed a claim for 'suspicion of fraud, embezzlement as well as misappropriation of funds'.
"When I now say that it is difficult to measure the past by today's standards, this is a generic statement. To me bribery is unacceptable and I neither tolerate nor seek to justify bribery. But this is what I am accused of now."
"The Swiss Federal Court has this week proven wrong all those people, who for years have accused me of having taken bribes. Now it is on record what I have always said: I have never taken nor received any bribes," said Blatter.
"Now the same people are trying to attack me from a different angle: 'Okay, he has not taken any bribes but he must have known."
"Once again, I only knew after the collapse of ISL years later. And this is because we instigated the whole matter. The people who attack me now know this is the case but still they persist. They want me out."
A Swiss prosecutor said in a legal document released this week that Havelange and former FIFA executive committee member Ricardo Teixeira took multimillion bribes on World Cup deals in the 1990s from ISL.
ISL sold the commercial rights to bro adcast World Cup tournaments on behalf of FIFA. It collapsed with debts of around $300-million in 2001.
Blatter, who has been with FIFA since 1975, and succeeded Havelange as president in 1998, said on Thursday he knew that payments were being made. He referred to them as "commission" and said they were not illegal at the time.
Asked in a question-and-answer session with FIFA's own website (www.fifa.com) on Thursday if he had known of payments, Blatter replied: "Known what? That commission was paid? Back then, such payments could even be deducted from tax as a business expense."
"Today, that would be punishable under law. You can't judge the past on the basis of today's standards."
Havelange is still FIFA's honorary president while Teixeira quit his post earlier this year, shortly after resigning as president of the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF).