Football: Fifa boss Blatter faces criminal proceedings, says Swiss prosecutor

Sepp Blatter (far left, with Michel Platini) has cut a lonely figure since Fifa became embroiled in a corruption scandal. He has always denied wrongdoing and was set to step down as president next year.
Sepp Blatter (left, with Michel Platini) has cut a lonely figure since Fifa became embroiled in a corruption scandal. He has always denied wrongdoing and was set to step down as president next year.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Swiss authorities looking into TV contract he signed with Warner and payment made to Platini

ZURICH • The Swiss Attorney-General has opened criminal proceedings against Fifa president Sepp Blatter in the heart of the Zurich headquarters he has dominated as president for 17 years, as the ongoing corruption crisis gripping world football took a dramatic turn yesterday.

The Office of the AG (OAG) said in a statement that it had interrogated Blatter after a meeting yesterday of Fifa's executive committee.

At the same time, Michel Platini, the Uefa president who is hoping to replace the Swiss as Fifa chief next year, was heard "as a person asked to provide information".

Fifa's headquarters were also searched and data seized from Blatter's office, causing a scheduled press conference to be cancelled amid feverish speculation.

"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 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," said the office of Swiss AG Michael Lauber.

That is believed to relate to the television contract unearthed by Swiss broadcasters that showed Blatter had agreed to sell television rights to the disgraced former Fifa heavyweight Warner at below the market rate.

"Additionally, Mr Joseph Blatter is suspected of a disloyal payment of 2 million Swiss francs (S$2.9 million) 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."

As the net has closed around Blatter, who has refused to travel to any country with an extradition treaty with the United States since the scandal broke, he has cut an increasingly remote figure.

"As for all defendants, the presumption of innocence applies for Mr Joseph Blatter," said the Swiss Attorney General.

The 79-year-old Blatter has always denied any wrongdoing.

Lauber confirmed last week that his office was looking into the TV contract signed by Blatter and Warner as part of its wider investigation, which began as a probe into the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar.

In May, seven Fifa executives were arrested in the lobby of the Baur au Lac hotel as American prosecutors outlined charges of money laundering, racketeering and fraud against 14 individuals, including nine high-ranking football officials.

Of the 14 Fifa officials indicted in May, 13 have been arrested, of whom three have been charged in US courtrooms. Ten await extradition.

Fifa said in a statement yesterday that it had been cooperating with the OAG since May 27. It had "complied with all requests for documents, data and other information. We will continue this level of cooperation throughout the investigation".

"Today, at the Home of Fifa, representatives from the Office of the Swiss Attorney General conducted interviews and gathered documents pursuant to its investigation. Fifa facilitated these interviews as part of our ongoing cooperation," it added.

THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 26, 2015, with the headline 'Blatter questioned, faces criminal probe'. Print Edition | Subscribe