BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Argentine football great Diego Maradona said on Wednesday he wants to fight the “mafia” responsible for the corruption scandal that has rocked FIFA, but he stopped short of saying he wants to be the next president of global soccer’s governing body.
“I have to fight the mafia that still remains inside FIFA. I have to fight those who have for a long time stolen from inside FIFA,” Maradona told local television channel America.
Asked whether he would run for the FIFA presidency, the 54-year old replied ambiguously: “I really want to be in FIFA.”
In late May, federal prosecutors in New York indicted nine soccer officials, most of whom held or had held FIFA positions, and five sports media and promotions executives in schemes involving $150 million in bribes over a period of 24 years. Prosecutors said their investigation exposed complex money laundering schemes, millions of dollars in untaxed income and tens of millions of dollars in offshore accounts held by the soccer officials.
Maradona has launched scathing attacks on the ruling elite of FIFA, and in particular its head Sepp Blatter, who announced in June that he was quitting over the bribery scandal.
Blatter was not charged by U.S. justice officials and denies any misconduct.
Maradona has long accused Blatter of running FIFA like a criminal organization and expressed delight in seeing U.S. authorities hitting several of FIFA’s top former and current officials with corruption charges.
He used to bemoan that his warnings were being ignored.
“Now in my favor, I am walking in step with the yanquis,” Maradona said in the interview, using Spanish-language slang for Americans.
“And these yanquis are serious,” he added.
Maradona was one of soccer’s most gifted players and led Argentina to a World Cup victory in 1986. But his dazzling career was blighted in later years by drug addiction, alcoholism and controversial incidents both on and off the soccer field.
Reporting by Luis Ampuero and Eliana Raszewski; Writing by Richard Lough; Editing by Tom Brown