Blatter quizzed, office raided

Sepp Blatter

Sepp Blatter

ZURICH. — The FIFA scandal yesterday engulfed two of the most powerful men in world football, Sepp Blatter and UEFA President Michel Platini, as the globe’s biggest sporting discipline was shaken to the core. This was what happened on a dramatic day here:

Swiss investigators opened criminal proceedings against Blatter, searching his office and collecting data.

The statement labelled Blatter “a suspect”. It described Platini as “a person called upon to give information”.

Blatter “is suspected of making a disloyal payment (in Jan 99 and Jun 02) of 2.0 million Swiss francs to Platini, at the expense of FIFA.”

The investigation is also into Blatter’s links with Jack Warner, a former FIFA vice-president now at the centre of a US investigation.

Blatter’s attorney, Richard Cullen, claimed that “certainly no mismanagement had occurred”.

Football Association chairman Greg Dyke believes the opening of criminal proceedings against Blatter shows FIFA is clearly “in disarray”.

Yesterday witnessed another chapter in the remarkable recent history of football’s world governing body as Swiss prosecutors took action against the FIFA president.

The Swiss attorney general’s office issued a statement saying Blatter is suspected of criminal mismanagement or misappropriation over a TV rights deal he signed with former Caribbean football chief Jack Warner in 2005.

The FIFA president is also suspected of “a disloyal payment” in 2011 of $2 million Swiss francs (£1.35million on current exchange rates) to Platini for work allegedly carried out by the Frenchman between 1999 and 2002.

Blatter and UEFA president Platini both deny wrongdoing but the development — a week after FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke was put on leave and released from duties after allegations he was implicated in a ticketing scandal – has highlighted to Dyke the problems facing the sport’s world governing body.

“I know that police have been interviewing Mr Blatter all afternoon,” Dyke told ITV News.

“I understand he has not been charged and that he will, at the moment, continue as president of FIFA, but other than that I don’t know anything.”

Asked whether this development should see Blatter leave FIFA now rather than February, Dyke added: “He hasn’t been charged so I don’t think you can say that.

“What is clear is that FIFA must be in disarray.

“Last week their general secretary got suspended and this week the president is being interviewed by police.”

“Today I was asked by the Swiss authorities to provide information relating to the ongoing investigations surrounding FIFA. I have always been open to supporting the relevant bodies and authorities in their investigative work and therefore cooperated fully.

“Regarding the payment that was made to me, I wish to state that this amount relates to work which I carried out under a contract with FIFA and I was pleased to have been able to clarify all matters relating to this with the authorities.

“Today I also made clear to the Swiss authorities that since I live in Switzerland I am available to speak with them any time to clarify any matters relating to the investigations.”

Swiss prosecutors revealed they had opened a criminal investigation into Blatter on suspicion of criminal mismanagement and misappropriation, the Swiss attorney general’s office said yesterday.

It said Blatter was interrogated after a meeting of FIFA’S executive committee in Zurich, and authorities carried out a search at FIFA headquarters yesterday.

“The office of the Fifa President has been searched and data seized,” the office of the attorney general (OAG) said.

It was the first time that authorities investigating corruption in the world’s most popular sport had pointed the finger directly at Blatter, the 79-year-old Swiss who has run its powerful governing body since 1998.

He has denied wrongdoing, and his US attorney said he was cooperating with the Swiss probe.

A source close to FIFA said that as Blatter has not been arrested, charged or indicted, it would probably be for him to decide whether he stays in his post until February, when he is due to step down.

However, the source said: “It is over for him now, it is finished.”

In a sign of concern over the implications of the deepening investigation, Russia was quick to say that it would not affect its hosting of the 2018 World Cup, one of the biggest and lucrative events in sport.

FIFA’S awarding of the 2018 and 2022 tournaments to Russia and Qatar is one of the strands under scrutiny from US and Swiss authorities investigating the alleged corruption in the organisation — a source of concern for powerful sponsors like McDonald’s Corp, Coca-Cola and Visa.

The scandal exploded in May, when 14 soccer officials and sports marketing executives were indicted.

The Swiss OAG said Blatter was questioned by its representatives, and Platini, the former French soccer star who runs European soccer body Uefa, was also asked to give information.

Platini is favourite to win the election to replace Blatter when he steps down in February.

A Swiss law enforcement source said that Platini had provided Swiss prosecutors with evidence against Blatter and was not regarded as a target of investigators at this point. The source said that Swiss prosecutors were also in touch with several other witnesses at various levels of Fifa and its affiliates who have expressed interest in giving evidence about corruption in the organisation.

Swiss investigators have been putting together their case against Blatter for some time, a law enforcement official said.

The official said Blatter is not in custody and is free to travel, though he has largely avoided leaving Switzerland since May.

The OAG statement said that Blatter was suspected of a “disloyal payment” of 2 million Swiss francs ($2,05 million) to Platini at the expense of Fifa, allegedly made for work performed between January 1999 and June 2002.

The payment was executed in February 2011, the OAG said.

The OAG said it also suspected Blatter of signing a contract in 2005 with the Caribbean Football Union that was unfavourable for Fifa and had “violated his fiduciary duties”.

Richard Cullen, a US lawyer for Blatter, said: “Mr. Blatter is cooperating and we are confident that when the Swiss authorities have a chance to review the documents and the evidence they will see that the contract was properly prepared and negotiated by the appropriate staff members of Fifa who were routinely responsible for such contracts, and certainly no mismanagement occurred.”

According to the Swiss criminal code, Blatter could, if convicted, face a custodial sentence of up to five years depending on the circumstances of the offence.

Fifa said in a statement that it had been cooperating with the Swiss authorities since May and complied with all requests for documents, data and other information. “We will continue this level of cooperation throughout the investigation.”

A spokeswoman for US prosecutors declined to comment. The FBI said it did not comment on other agencies’ investigations.

Blatter has survived a series of scandals during his term in office including widespread accusations that Qatar bought the right to stage the 2022 World Cup. Qatar has always denied any wrongdoing.

Despite widespread calls for Blatter’s resignation when the US indictments were issued in May, accompanied by a series of arrests, he refused to withdraw his candidacy for another term at the helm of Fifa. He was duly re-elected, telling delegates: “Football needs a strong and experienced leader.”

As the scandal reverberated around the world and his position became untenable, he announced only days later that he would step down, though for the time being he remains in office until the election of his successor.

“Fifa has been my life . . . what counts most for me is Fifa and football around the world,” he said at the time. — The Telegraph/Reuters/SuperSport.