Blatter's lawyer calls for acquittal

ZURICH • Suspended Fifa president Sepp Blatter pleaded his innocence before the organisation's ethics committee on Thursday as Switzerland said it had frozen tens of millions of dollars in suspect accounts linked to football corruption.

The Swiss, who with vice-president Michel Platini faces a long suspension, arrived and exited Fifa's Zurich headquarters in a black Mercedes, accompanied by his lawyer. He made no comment.

However, after the hearing, which lasted more than eight hours, his lawyer Richard Cullen issued a statement calling for an acquittal. "President Blatter looks forward to a decision in his favour because the evidence requires it," Cullen explained in an e-mail sent to news agency Agence France-Presse. "President Blatter behaved properly and certainly did not violate Fifa's code of ethics.

"This investigation should be closed and the suspension lifted."

Before the hearing, the 79-year-old Swiss had written a letter to Fifa's 209 members, calling the Fifa ethics commitee's investigators "the inquisition".

As the hearing went ahead, Russia's President Vladimir Putin, whose country will host the 2018 World Cup, said Blatter should be a Nobel Peace Prize laureate. "His contribution to the global humanitarian sphere is colossal," he said.

Blatter is under criminal investigation in Switzerland over a payment of two million Swiss francs (S$2.8 million) made to Platini in 2011 for work carried out about a decade earlier.

The Frenchman's case was scheduled to be heard yesterday but he had said he would boycott the tribunal as he believed a life-ban verdict had been decided in advance. His lawyers were scheduled to attend.

The ethics committee chamber is expected to announce its verdict on Monday.

Meanwhile, the United States has asked Switzerland to freeze about 50 accounts in Swiss banks, including UBS, Credit Suisse, Pictet, BSI and Julius Baer, linked to its inquiry into corruption.

Swiss justice ministry spokesman Folco Galli said "funds in the high tens of millions (Swiss francs) are blocked".

The Tages Anzeiger newspaper said the figure was between 50 million and 100 million Swiss francs.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 19, 2015, with the headline 'Blatter's lawyer calls for acquittal'. Print Edition | Subscribe