Sepp Blatter faces judgment by FIFA ethics court he created

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ZURICH (AP) Sepp Blatter is trying to save his FIFA presidency on Thursday at the ethics committee he helped create and whose authority he does not recognize in his case.

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The suspended FIFA leader will tell four judges he is innocent of wrongdoing when he enters the headquarters of soccer’s world governing body for the first time since October.

Blatter was key in 2012 to empowering a tougher and more independent FIFA ethics committee that he now insists cannot remove an elected president.

“Now it has come back to haunt him,” Mark Pieth, a former anti-corruption adviser to FIFA, told The Associated Press this week.

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Blatter risks a life ban if the judges’ verdict – due early next week – is guilty of allegations of bribery when he approved a $2 million payment from FIFA to Michel Platini in 2011.

Or, Blatter could be banned for several years for a conflict of interest between the two longtime FIFA executive committee colleagues. He also should be quizzed about falsifying FIFA accounts.

He arrived soon after 8 a.m. local time (0700 GMT) in a chauffeur-driven car for a hearing that was scheduled to start at 9 a.m.

Blatter has said it is “humiliating” for a FIFA president to be barred from office by his own ethics committee.

In the same Swiss television interview last month, Blatter said the ethics committee he ushered in after a previous corruption crisis had no right to take him down.

Only the FIFA Congress of member federations can remove a president, Blatter said at the time.

In July 2012, FIFA moved from an in-house committee monitoring unethical conduct to a two-chamber group of prosecutors and judges with freedom and funding to pursue cases.

Pieth led a group of anti-corruption experts and soccer officials who steered Blatter and FIFA toward modernizing reforms from 2012 to 2014. Not all were accepted, but the two-chamber ethics court was crucial.

“It must be said that he (Blatter) was the one who pushed it through Congress,” Pieth, a Swiss professor of law, said in a telephone interview. “That was the moment we all believed he is serious, at least about the letter of the changes.”

Pieth likened Blatter’s recent comments with a “a classic situation” where leaders mired in corruption allegations seek special treatment.

“It is spooky then turning around, saying `It applies to everybody else but not to me because I am the sovereign,”‘ Pieth, a former United Nations investigator, said.

Blatter complained about the ethics committee’s power to Russian news agency TASS after his 90-day was imposed.

“They can be independent but they don’t need to be against me,” he was quoted as saying in October.

Blatter was charged by the ethics committee after Switzerland’s attorney general opened criminal proceedings against him for a suspected “disloyal payment” to Platini, who is boycotting his own ethics hearing Friday.

The case centers on Platini getting about $2 million of FIFA money as uncontracted salary for working as Blatter’s presidential adviser in 1999-2002.

Platini asked for a salary of 1 million Swiss francs. Blatter has said the former French international had a contract for 300,000 Swiss francs, the same as its then secretary general in line with FIFA’s wage structure, plus a “gentleman’s agreement” to get the rest later.

Swiss law obliged FIFA only to pay the deferred money within five years but Platini, by then UEFA president, reportedly asked for the balance in 2010 and was paid in February 2011.

The timing has raised suspicion, coming months before a presidential election when UEFA urged its members to support Blatter against Mohamed bin Hammam of Qatar. Blatter won unopposed after Bin Hammam was implicated in bribing Caribbean voters.

On Thursday, Blatter also faces questions about false accounting because FIFA’s debt to Platini was not booked in financial reports from 2002-2011.

“The first part of the payment is in the accounts, the second no, but I am not a FIFA accountant,” Blatter said in an interview with Italian sports daily Gazzetta dello Sport this week. “And what was or wasn’t in the accounts, was a debt to pay.”

Blatter suggested in a separate interview with Liberation, the French daily, that he faces two sanction options: Life ban or a two-year ban plus a fine of 160,000 Swiss francs ($161, 000).

He can appeal to FIFA and the Court of Arbitration for Sport, and wants to clear his name before hosting the FIFA election congress in Zurich on Feb. 26.

“I can go before any tribunal with a clear conscience,” Blatter told Liberation.