Blatter plays it safe with lawyers

Valcke also takes same route as the authorities probe corruption in Fifa

BERNE - Fifa's embattled president Sepp Blatter and his second-in-command have hired high-powered lawyers to represent them, two sources said as a corruption probe engulfs football's global governing body, with the Swiss authorities identifying suspicious bank transactions.

Blatter recently retained Richard Cullen, chairman of law firm McGuireWoods and a former US federal prosecutor, said a person familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Separately, Fifa general secretary Jerome Valcke has hired prominent New York defence attorney Barry Berke, a second source said.

Blatter, 79, said on June 2 that he would stand down as Fifa president, only four days after he was re-elected to the position.

That followed the US authorities' indictment of nine current and former Fifa officials and five corporate executives for allegedly running a criminal enterprise that involved more than US$150 million (S$202 million) in bribes over 24 years.

US prosecutors have not accused Blatter or Valcke of wrongdoing.

However, they believe Valcke was involved in US$10 million in Fifa bank transactions that are a key part of the investigation.

Valcke said last week that while he had signed off on the transactions, he had done nothing wrong, adding that allegations against him were "insanity".

Among the issues the FBI is examining is Blatter's stewardship of Fifa, sources have said.

Investigations by US and Swiss authorities include scrutiny of how Fifa awarded the 2018 and 2022 World Cup hosting rights to Russia and Qatar respectively.

Blatter has also retained Lorenz Erni, a top lawyer in Zurich, the first source said.

It was unclear whether the decisions by Blatter and Valcke to hire top lawyers indicated increased scrutiny by the US authorities.

Prosecutors in Switzerland, where Fifa is based, have identified 53 suspicious bank transactions and could summon Blatter and Valcke for questioning.

Cullen has long ties to FBI director James Comey, whose bureau is conducting much of the Fifa-related investigation.

Comey served as a federal prosecutor in Virginia, where Cullen is based, and worked as a partner at McGuireWoods.

Cullen spoke positively of Comey's nomination for FBI director in 2013. As a lawyer, Cullen has often represented government officials as they tried to fend off indictments in high-profile criminal investigations.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 19, 2015, with the headline 'BLATTER PLAYS IT SAFE WITH LAWYERS'. Print Edition | Subscribe