Swiss prosecutors yesterday opened criminal proceedings against Fifa president Sepp Blatter and questioned Uefa president Michel Platini on another momentous day at football’s world governing body.
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 in 2005.
He is also suspected of “a disloyal payment” in 2011 of two millions Swiss francs to Platini for work allegedly carried out by the Frenchman between 1999 and 2002.
Platini has been seen as the favourite to succeed Blatter as president of Fifa.
Officers from the Swiss Office of the Attorney General (OAG) interrogated Blatter at Fifa headquarters following a Fifa executive committee meeting yesterday. His office was searched and data seized, while Platini was questioned as a witness.
Blatter has repeatedly insisted he is innocent of any wrongdoing amid allegations of scandal involving Fifa.
Platini’s alleged involvement casts a shadow over his hopes of succeeding Blatter, who will face renewed pressure to step down immediately rather than stick to his original plan of staying on until February 26 next year. A “disloyal payment” is one that goes against the best interests of the organisation— Platini insists he has clarified the payment with investigators but the question remains as to why it was not made until nine years down the line.
The timing of the payment also raises questions as it took place in February 2011, three months before Blatter was standing for re-election and facing a challenge from Qatari rival Mohamed Bin Hammam.
An OAG statement said: “Swiss criminal proceedings against the president of Fifa, Mr Joseph Blatter, have been opened on 24 September 2015 on suspicion of criminal mismanagement and— alternatively— misappropriation.
“On the one hand, 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 unfavourable 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 2m CHF (Swiss francs) to Michel Platini, president of 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.”
Fifa had cancelled a news conference at its headquarters at the last minute yesterday.
Around 170 media had been accredited for the news conference in Zurich and were only told of the cancellation five minutes before it was due to start.
It followed a Fifa executive committee yesterday morning where a number of decisions were taken. These included moving the venue of the next meeting from Japan to Zurich — Japan has an extradition treaty with the USA and Blatter and several other officials have been wary of possible arrest.
The committee also ratified a decision taken in March that the winter World Cup in Qatar in 2022 will be held over 28 days between November 21 and December 18.
Fifa said it was co-operating with the investigation by the attorney general’s office and “has complied with all requests for documents, data and other information”.
Blatter’s American lawyer Richard Cullen insisted “no mismanagement” had occurred.
Cullen said in a statement: “Mr Blatter is co-operating and we are confident 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.”
Platini released a statement saying he had clarified matters about the payment with the authorities.
Platini said: “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.
“Today I also made clear to the Swiss authorities I am available to speak with them any time to clarify any matters relating to the investigations.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved