Burundi’s autocratic president has claimed that Sepp Blatter, the disgraced former head of world football, offered him a “bribe” in an unsuccessful bid to persuade him to leave office.
Mr Blatter revealed in his authorised biography that the Swiss government asked him to dissuade Pierre Nkurunziza from running for a divisive third term in office by offering him a football ambassadorial post.
Mr Nkurunziza is known to be a big football fan and often takes to the field as part of his personal team, Hallelujah FC.
But Willy Nyamitwe, a spokesman for the president, said he rejected the offer out of hand “as he believed it was a bribe and even a trap”.
“He couldn’t fail the members of the ruling party who wanted him as their candidate,” Mr Nyamitwe told Foreign Policy magazine.
“We knew some countries were trying their utmost to get a regime change in Burundi. We were then committed to resist as we could.”
Mr Nkurunziza was re-elected for a third term in July in an election boycotted by the opposition. More than 400 people have been killed in the unrest and tit-for-tat killings continue.
On Monday, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the UN human rights chief, said his team had recorded at least 345 cases of torture and ill-treatment in Burundi since January and nearly 600 over the past year.
Thomas Perriello, US special envoy for Africa’s Great Lakes region, said it was clear Mr Nkurunziza’s government was “the driver, not the victim of this current crisis”.
He said the president had reneged on a promise to release political prisoners and allow 200 African Union peacekeepers access, adding that “games” were still being played.
Sepp Blatter said he had been asked by the Swiss foreign ministry to approach the Burundian president and that he had declared himself “touched” by the offer.
“I spoke with the Burundi president, I told him he would have the international recognition of FIFA, that he would be an extraordinary ambassador for us,” the 80-year-old Swiss, who was banned from football for six years for unethical conduct, added.
“He said, in French, ‘I am very touched, I want to look at that and speak with my people’ … but the mission failed.”
The Swiss foreign ministry said in a statement there had been contact between Blatter and State Secretary Yves Rossier, but denied the ministry had asked Mr Nkurunziza not to run for another term.
The intention was to “contribute to a peaceful solution in order to prevent the current crisis in Burundi”, it added.