Criminal proceedings have been opened against Fifa President Sepp Blatter, over "criminal mismanagement" of Fifa's money, and a "disloyal" £1.4m payment to the head of European football, Michel Platini.
Four months after the Swiss Attorney General sensationally announced his investigation into corruption at world football’s governing body, hours after the arrest of Fifa officials in their hotel beds in Zurich, this is the first time President Blatter himself has been personally implicated in criminal activity.
Blatter was questioned by Swiss officials directly after a meeting of Fifa’s Executive Committee at the organisation’s Zurich headquarters, leading to the abrupt cancellation of his planned press conference.
In a statement, the Swiss Attorney General’s office said that: “The OAG suspects that on 12 September 2005 Mr. Joseph Blatter has signed a contract with the Caribbean Football Union (with Jack Warner as the President at this time); this contract was unfavorable for FIFA. On the other hand, there is as suspicion that, in the implementation of this agreement, Joseph Blatter also violated his fiduciary duties and acted against the interest of FIFA and/or FIFA Marketing & TV AG.
“Additionally, Mr. Joseph Blatter is suspected of a disloyal payment of CHF 2 Mio. to Michel Platini, President of Union of European Football Associations (UEFA), at the expense of FIFA, which was allegedly made for work performed between January 1999 and June 2002 ; this payment was executed in February 2011.”
Platini was not a member of Fifa’s Executive Committee by this point. Quite what work he had undertaken is unclear, as is the nine year delay in making the payment.
The charges under Swiss law carry a potential five year prison term. Earlier Fifa’s Executive Committee switched its scheduled December meeting from Japan - where the World Club Cup will be taking place - to Zurich. Blatter’s travel plans have been the subject of constant discussion since the United States Department of Justice opened their own investigation into Fifa corruption, which led to the seven arrests at the end of May. Japan have an extradition treaty with the USA. While Swiss authorities made those arrests and have extradited several of the men involved, none are Swiss nationals, as Blatter is.
Shortly before the press conference was due to start, Blatter’s lawyer Lorenz Erni was seen entering Fifa Head Quarters. It is understood Blatter, who is due to step down in February, held meetings with advisers to discuss whether he should step down immediately. One of Blatter’s top advisors, Klaus Stohlker, told journalists Blatter “had not been expecting” what happened, and was preparing for the press conference. Reports claim he returned to find Swiss Attorney General Michael Lauber in his office, amid a large police presence.
At a press conference last week, Attorney General Lauber claimed his office had seized assets in relation to corrupt payments at Fifa, including an apartment in the Swiss alps.
If Blatter does step down immediately, Issa Hayatou, the Cameroonian head of the African Football Confederation would become acting President.
A “disloyal payment” in this instance is one that is against the interests of Fifa, on whose behalf Blatter was acting Prior to this announcement, Michel Platini, the Uefa chief, legendary former player and former close personal friend of Blatter had been favourite to become the next President. Unless the allegations made by the Swiss Attorney General prove totally unfounded, that course of events will be all but impossible. With Platini out of the picture, the most credible candidate currently in the running is Jordanian Prince Ali bin Al Hussein. But were Platini to be removed from the equation, more candidates would be likely to emerge.
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