GENEVA • The future of embattled Fifa president Sepp Blatter and his heir apparent Michel Platini was in play yesterday, as they faced scrutiny by the football world body's ethics committee that could end with suspension.
If Platini is suspended, the Frenchman could be barred from standing in the Feb 26 election to succeed Blatter. If the latter were to be suspended, the Swiss would likely be forced to step down before the vote, bringing a rapid and ignominious end to his 17-year Fifa reign.
Committee spokesman Andreas Bantel said he could not comment on individual cases and refused to confirm reports that the committee had opened a probe against the two most powerful men in football.
But he emphasised that "if there is an initial suspicion, the investigatory chamber of the ethics committee initiates formal proceedings".
And there is much suspicion to go around with the ethics committee due to meet in the coming days.
In a dramatic escalation of the corruption scandal engulfing world football since May, Swiss investigators swept into Fifa's headquarters on Friday as they turned their attention to Blatter and Platini.
The authorities said a criminal investigation had been opened against Blatter on suspicion of criminal mismanagement while Uefa chief Platini, who was favourite to win the February election, had come under scrutiny over a murky multi-million-dollar payment.
Blatter was being investigated over the 2005 sale of World Cup television rights to the Caribbean Football Union, then run by his former ally Jack Warner, a deal which had been "unfavourable for Fifa".
Blatter, who has denied any wrongdoing, was also suspected of making a "disloyal payment" of US$2 million (S$2.8 million) to Platini in February 2011, allegedly made for work the Frenchman carried out for Fifa between 1999 and 2002.
Platini defended it as compensation for work he conducted under contract with Fifa.
But he has yet to explain why it arrived nearly a decade after he completed the work.
The stunning development came after months of probes following raids in Zurich which led to the indictment of more than a dozen top officials. The Fifa ethics committee moved quicker back then, waiting barely 24 hours to suspend the officials snapped up in the May 27 dawn raid.
Media was awash yesterday with speculation over how long 79-year- old Blatter could hold on and if Platini, his 60-year-old former ally, still had a chance to take his place.
A former Fifa insider, who requested anonymity, however, stressed that a probe by the ethics committee did not necessarily mean Blatter would face suspension. "It is not automatic, neither for him nor Platini," he said.
If Blatter leaves, Fifa vice-president Issa Hayatou would temporarily take the reins. Blatter's former personal public relations adviser, Klaus Stoehlker, meanwhile, told Schweiz am Sonntag that the Swiss was unlikely to make a hasty exit. AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE