Sepp Blatter questioned in FIFA investigation in Switzerland

Sepp Blatter
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BERN, Switzerland — Former FIFA president Sepp Blatter was questioned Tuesday by Swiss investigators about a $2 million payment he authorized in 2011 to then-UEFA president Michel Platini.

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Sepp Blatter was quizzed about suspected criminal mismanagement at FIFA one day after Platini spent about three hours at the offices of Switzerland’s federal prosecutors.

The 84-year-old Blatter waved as he arrived in Bern with his lawyer, Lorenz Erni.

A criminal proceeding has been open against Blatter since the allegation was revealed in September 2015, though it was extended to Platini only three months ago.

Blatter has also been a suspect since May in a second allegation linked to $1 million of FIFA money gifted in 2010 into the control of now-disgraced Caribbean soccer leader Jack Warner.

Blatter has long denied wrongdoing during his 18-year FIFA presidency. His term ended following American and Swiss investigations of corruption in international soccer.

Platini was favored to succeed his former mentor in a February 2016 election until the $2 million allegation ended his campaign.

Blatter instructed FIFA to pay Platini after the French soccer great asked for deferred salary from a decade earlier. Platini had been an advisor in Blatter’s first presidential term from 1998-2002.

The FIFA ethics committee and the Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled there was no valid verbal or written contract to pay the money.

Both men were banned from working in soccer by the FIFA ethics committee and removed from office. Blatter’s six-year ban expires next October.

Swiss prosecutors intend to drop 1 FIFA case against Blatter

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GENEVA — In a legal victory for former FIFA president Sepp Blatter, federal prosecutors in Switzerland plan to drop one of two cases open against him for suspected criminal mismanagement.

The Swiss attorney general’s office on Saturday confirmed reports they intend to close an investigation into how Blatter and soccer governing body FIFA awarded World Cup broadcast rights in the Caribbean in 2005.

The decision is the latest example in recent weeks of the Swiss FIFA cases stalling, while the separate and cooperating American investigation sparked back into life with new indictments and fresh allegations of World Cup bid bribery.

The criminal proceeding against Blatter was opened 4 + years ago and helped remove him from the presidential office he held for more than 17 years. He is serving a six-year FIFA ban from soccer.

A second criminal proceeding against Blatter – for a $2 million payment he authorized to FIFA vice president Michel Platini in 2011 for uncontracted salary – remains open, the Swiss prosecution office said.

Prosecutors said in a statement they could not give a timetable for formally terminating the Caribbean investigation.

A spokesman for Blatter was contacted for comment

The investigation was opened in September 2015 after a Swiss broadcaster published a 10-year-old FIFA contract awarding the Caribbean Football Union regional broadcast rights to the 2010 and 2014 World Cups for a combined $600,000.

The CFU was controlled by Jack Warner, the now disgraced former FIFA vice president. The rights were sold to a Jamaica-based broadcaster for a profit reportedly close to $20 million.

The document appeared to bolster Warner’s claim in 2011, after he left FIFA while implicated in bribing voters to oppose Blatter, that FIFA awarded him cheap World Cup rights in exchange for helping Blatter win presidential elections.

Swiss prosecutors said in 2015 “this contract was unfavorable for FIFA” and suspected Blatter of acting against the world soccer body’s interest. FIFA later claimed it had a 50-50 profit share with the CFU for the subsequent rights sale.

The Caribbean deal for the 2014 tournament was terminated in 2011 after Warner’s resignation from FIFA. He was banned for life in 2015 after being indicted by the U.S. Department of Justice, and has since fought extradition from Trinidad and Tobago.

American and Swiss prosecutors unsealed their separate but cooperating investigations in May 2015 when several FIFA officials were arrested in hotels in Zurich two days before Blatter won re-election.

In the past month, Swiss investigations have hit problems while in the U.S., which has seen dozens of guilty pleas and convictions, prosecutors published an updated indictment Monday that included further implicating Warner in taking bribes for his vote in World Cup hosting contests.

A first Swiss trial, into an irregular payment between German organizers of the 2006 World Cup and Blatter’s FIFA in 2005, briefly opened last month. It was adjourned amid problems conducting the process during the coronavirus pandemic in a court close to the Italian border. The trial of four soccer officials faces collapsing this month due to a statute of limitations expiring.

Prosecutors were also reportedly told by a Swiss federal judge last month to provide more evidence to back up criminal charges alleging Qatari soccer and television executive Nasser al-Khelaifi provided a luxury Italian villa to FIFA’s then secretary general, Jerome Valcke.

Al-Khelaifi denies wrongdoing and remains president of French champion Paris Saint-Germain and an executive committee member of European soccer body UEFA. Valcke was fired by FIFA and banned from soccer for 10 years.

Switzerland’s investigations are no longer overseen by the attorney general, Michael Lauber. He was recused and disciplined after it was revealed he had three meetings with current FIFA president Gianni Infantino to discuss the case, which has included at least 25 open criminal proceedings.

Momentum in the U.S. case picked up days ago when prosecutors detailed in writing for the first time that they suspect Russia and Qatar paid bribes a decade ago to voters on FIFA’s executive committee to win hosting rights, respectively, for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.

Extracts of emails were published to support an allegation Warner got bribes totaling $5 million in 2010 and 2011 to support Russia. That was denied by a Kremlin spokesman and the bid leader, Alexey Sorokin, now Russia’s most senior soccer official and a member of FIFA’s ruling council.

U.S. prosecutors allege bribes in 2018, 2022 World Cup votes


NEW YORK (AP) — Prosecutors revealed new details of alleged bribes paid to FIFA executive committee members to gain their votes for Qatar to host the 2022 World Cup and charged a pair of former 21st Century Fox executives with making illegal payments to win broadcast rights for the 2018 and 2022 tournaments.

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An indictment unsealed Monday in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn says Nicolás Leoz, then president of the South American governing body CONMEBOL, and former Brazil federation president Ricardo Teixeira received bribes to vote for Qatar at the 2010 FIFA executive committee meeting.

Jack Warner of Trinidad and Tobago, president of the North and Central American and Caribbean governing body CONCACAF, received $5 million in bribes to vote for Russia to host in 2018 from 10 different shell companies that included entities in Anguilla, Cyprus and the British Virgin Islands, the indictment alleged. Guatemala federation president Rafael Salguero was promised a $1 million bribe to vote for Russia, according to the indictment.

Leoz, who died last August, avoided extradition, as have Warner and Teixeira. Salguero pleaded guilty in 2018 to two counts of wire fraud conspiracy and one count each of racketeering conspiracy and money laundering conspiracy.

Alejandro Burzaco, former head of the marketing company Torneos y Competencias, testified in 2017 that all three South Americans on the FIFA executive committee took million-dollar bribes to support Qatar, which prevailed over the U.S. 14-8.

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Former 21st Century Fox Inc. executives Hernan Lopez and Carlos Martinez were charged Monday with making payments to CONMEBOL officials to obtain broadcast rights bidding information from a co-conspirator whose identify was not identified in the indictment.

ESPN had U.S. English-language television rights to the World Cup from 1994-2014, but Fox in 2011 gained the rights for the 2018 and 2022 tournaments. After the 2022 tournament in Qatar was shifted from summer to late autumn, a time when it is likely to get less attention in the U.S., FIFA awarded Fox rights for 2026 without competitive bidding.

Also charged in the indictment, handed up by a grand jury on March 18, are former Imagina Media Audiovisual CEO Gerard Romy; and the Uruguayan sports marketing company Full Play Group SA.

The indictment includes charges of wire fraud and money laundering. The charges against Romy and Full Play also allege racketeering conspiracy.

“The profiteering and bribery in international soccer have been deep-seated and commonly known practices for decades,” William F. Sweeney Jr., assistant director in charge of the FBI’s New York field office, said in a statement. “Over a period of many years, the defendants and their co-conspirators corrupted the governance and business of international soccer with bribes and kickbacks, and engaged in criminal fraudulent schemes that caused significant harm to the sport of soccer. Their schemes included the use of shell companies, sham consulting contracts and other concealment methods to disguise the bribes and kickback payments and make them appear legitimate.”

Since the first indictments were announced in May 2015, there have been 26 publicly announced guilty pleas, many from former soccer officials, including CONCACAF general secretary Chuck Blazer.

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CONMEBOL president Juan Ángel Napout and Brazil federation president José Maria Marin were convicted following trials. Napout is in prison in Florida and Marin was released from a prison last week. Some individuals await sentencing.

Lopez was CEO of Fox International Channels, a 21st Century Fox subsidiary, and Martinez was president of Fox International Channels and an executive of Fox Latin American Channel Inc. They are accused of joining with Full Play to pay million of dollars in bribes to CONMEBOL executives in exchange for rights to the Copa Libertadores, South America’s annual club championship.

“It’s shocking that the government would bring such a thin case,” Lopez’s lawyer, Matthew D. Umhofer, said in an email. “The indictment contains nothing more than single paragraph about Mr. Lopez that alleges nothing remotely improper. Mr. Lopez can’t wait to defend himself at trial.”

Steven J. McCool, Martinez’s attorney, said in an email: “We are certain a jury will swiftly exonerate Carlos, as the charges against him are nothing more than stale fiction.”

Carlos Ortiz said Full Play intends to plead not guilty at Thursday’s arraignment and his client “looks forward to vigorously defending itself against all of the charges at trial.”

A lawyer for Romy did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Fox Sports also did not respond to a request for comment.

Romy is accused with joining his alleged co-conspirators to pay a $3 million bribe to Jeffrey Webb, the former president of the North and Central American and Caribbean governing body CONCACAF, for media and marketing rights to home World Cup qualifiers in the Caribbean for the 2018 and 2022 cycles. Webb pleaded guilty on Nov. 23, 2015, to several counts and awaits sentencing.

Bournemouth 2019-20 season preview

Established: 1899
Stadium: Vitality Stadium
Location: Bournemouth (south coast of England)
Head Coach: Eddie Howe
Nickname: The Cherries
Rival: Southampton
Top-Division Titles: Zero

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Best possible XI:

Callum Wilson

Key arrivals: Philip Billing (Huddersfield Town), Lloyd Kelly (Bristol City), Jack Stacey (Luton Town), Arnaut Danjuma (Club Brugge), Harry Wilson (Loan, Liverpool)

Key departures: Tyrone Mings (Aston Villa), Marc Pugh (QPR), Lys Mousset (Sheffield United)

Ranking their offseason: They managed to keep hold of both Ryan Fraser and Callum WIlson, so that’s a plus. Although Fraser has yet to sign a new contract and has less than 12 months on his current deal. Losing David Brooks to injury was a big blow, but Bournemouth have brought in young, hungry squad players to boost their numbers. Billing, Harry Wilson, Kelly, Stacey and Danjuma may not be automatic starters but they make the Cherries’ bench a lot stronger. Getting better defensively has been their aim over the summer, and a few decent results in preseason has shown that. 5/10

Star player: Callum Wilson is the obvious choice here. Now a full England international, Wilson signed a new long-term deal at Bournemouth amid plenty of interest from across the Premier League. He scored 14 Premier League goals last season and their flowing attacks center around him. Often dragging defenders out wide, the likes of Brooks and Fraser love to make the most of the space he provides. If Wilson stays fit for another full season, he could easily score 20 goals.

Coaches’ Corner: The longest-serving manager among the PL’s 20 clubs, Howe continues to defy the odds with Bournemouth. Now that they have been in the PL for four seasons they can spend a lot more on new players and he’s done that this summer by bringing in back-up players primarily. His continues to favor young talent and Bournemouth’s flowing style of play is great to watch. That said, shoring up a defense which conceded 70 goals (the third highest tally) last season must be his priority.

PST predicts: Bournemouth always seem to start the season well and then run out of steam in a big way. They’ve almost got sucked into the relegation battle on numerous occasions and the Cherries have to get better at the back. Their attacking unit is befitting of a top 10 club but I think Bournemouth will finish just above the relegation zone this season.

Aston Villa 2019-20 season preview

Established: 1874
Stadium: Villa Park
Location: Birmingham (west Midlands of England)
Head Coach: Dean Smith
Nickname: The Villans, Villa
Rival(s): Birmingham City, West Bromwich Albion
Top-Division Titles: 7 (1893-94, 1895-96, 1896-97, 1898-99, 1899-1900, 1909-10, 1980-81)

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Best possible XI:

El Ghazi

Key arrivals: Tom Heaton (Burnley), Jota (Birmingham City), Anwar El Ghazi (Lille), Wesley, Marvelous Nakamba (both Club Brugge), Douglas Luiz (Man City), Trezeguet (Kasimpasa), Bjorn Engels (Stade de Reims), Kortney Hause (Wolves), Matt Targett (Southampton), Ezri Konsa (Brentford), Tyrone Mings (Bournemouth)

Key departures: Ross McCormack (Released), Micah Richards (Retired), Glenn Whelan (Released), Richie de Laet (Free, Royal Antwerp), Tommy Elphick (Free, Huddersfield Town)

Ranking their offseason: This has been one of the biggest squad overhauls in PL history and it was much needed for Villa. Dean Smith lost plenty of players at the end of last season and couldn’t get others such as Axel Tuanzebe and Tammy Abraham back from their loans. Signing 12 new players for combined transfer fees of over $160 million is a big risk and only time will tell if this is going to Fulham-esque. Wesley looks a handful up top, while Guilbert looks handy at right back and both Mings and Heaton will add plenty of experience in defense. Some free-flowing displays in preseason suggest all of the new signings are settling quickly. 6/10

Star player: Jack Grealish is the local lad, the captain and their star player. The English playmaker almost joined Spurs on multiple occasions while Villa sat out of the PL but he’s now led them back to the top-flight and Grealish is set to become a star. His incredible ability on the ball is coupled with a drive to win, and that sometimes see his passion boil over. That said, he has matured and alongside Smith, Villa’s fans have two of their own leading the team both on and off the pitch.

Coaches’ Corner: Smith is a lifelong Villa fan and after arriving midseason last year, he got them going and they sealed promotion in style at Wembley. The former Walsall and Brentford boss loves to play attacking soccer and that ensures Villa will intriguing to watch this season. They will go for it. Given the huge number of new signings Smith knows that it will take a little time for things to settle down, but having John Terry as his assistant will help gel things together rather quickly.

PST predicts: Villa have made so many changes to their squad that it is very hard to predict which way this will go. That said, it seems like they should be tucked just above the relegation zone if things go as planned. There is also the potential that this new–look, young squad will have the element of surprise for the first half of the season and that could build the platform for a top 10 finish. They look the strongest out of all the newly-promoted teams.