Sepp Blatter

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Blatter suggests 2022 World Cup could be moved to U.S., other countries

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Former FIFA president Sepp Blatter, who is serving a six-year ban from football, has stated that the awarding of the 2022 World Cup to the United States or other well-developed countries is still a possibility after fresh corruption charges were brought forth by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Last week, Russia and Qatar both released statements denying the charges, but formal proceedings could potentially push through change regarding the upcoming tournament host where years of speculation and conjecture could not.

In an interview with German publication Sport Bild, Blatter inferred that change is still possible and laid out a short list of countries who would be capable of hosting on short notice.  Referencing the joint-bid for the United States to host the 2026 World Cup with Canada and Mexico beginning an expanded field, Blatter suggested that could be formally moved forward.

“Germany could do it. But this would mean the World Cup being staged in Europe again after 2018,” Blatter said. “Europe therefore would not be first choice. The United States could do it instead of 2026. They are capable, it’s not rocket science! Japan could also do it. They also bid to host the 2022 World Cup.”

“Fortunately, the 2022 World Cup will only have 32 teams and not 48 as [FIFA president Gianni Infantino] had planned. The organisational effort would not be bigger than 2018.”

There would still be massive logistical roadblocks to this. As Blatter mentioned, the upcoming 2022 tournament is not yet featuring an expanded field, so filling out a scheduled also playing games in Mexico and Canada could be troublesome with fewer games. If only the United States hosted in 2022 and the 2026 bid was reopened, Mexico and Canada could be left out in the cold, which would clearly not go over well.

Qatar’s denial of the latest allegations was forceful, although their defense continues to shift from “we didn’t do anything wrong” to “you can’t prove it.”

“Despite years of false claims, evidence has never been produced to demonstrate that Qatar won the rights to host the FIFA World Cup 2022 unethically or by means that contravened FIFA’s strict bidding rules,” said the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy in a statement. “The SC maintains that it strictly adhered to all rules and regulations for the 2018/2022 FIFA World Cup bidding process and any claim to the contrary is baseless and will be fiercely contested.”

Still, the pressure is mounting on Qatar to prove its innocence, and the murmurs continue about whether they will actually prove a viable host.

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.

First trial in Swiss FIFA investigation opens in court Monday

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GENEVA — Five years into a sprawling investigation of soccer corruption, the first courtroom trial in Switzerland is due to begin on Monday in a 2006 World Cup fraud case.

Former FIFA president Sepp Blatter and German soccer great Franz Beckenbauer are listed by Switzerland’s federal criminal court to testify in the trial of four soccer officials implicated in a suspect 6.7 million euros ($7.6 million) payment.

Beckenbauer, as head of the German 2006 organizing committee, is a criminal suspect in the long-running investigation though was not indicted last August for health reasons and will not stand trial.

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Amid fears of the spreading coronavirus, it is likely most of the star witnesses and defendants will not come to court in Bellinzona, which is close to the border with northern Italy.

Blatter is scheduled to testify on Thursday, two days after he turns 84, by video link from Zurich where he lives, his spokesman, Thomas Renggli, said on Friday.

The defendants include three members of the 2006 World Cup organizing committee: Theo Zwanziger and Wolfgang Niersbach – who both served on FIFA’s executive committee after Beckenbauer – and Horst Schmidt.

The fourth is Urs Linsi, who was Blatter’s right-hand man as FIFA secretary general for five years from 2002.

Swiss federal prosecutors allege Linsi, Zwanziger and Schmidt jointly committed fraud and Niersbach was complicit in fraud by misleading the organizing committee’s oversight panel.

All deny wrongdoing in a case that centers on a complex money trail, claimed to be loans and repayments made in 2002 and 2005.

The payments connect Beckenbauer, Germany’s soccer federation, a FIFA bank account in Switzerland, one-time FIFA power broker Mohamed bin Hammam of Qatar, and Robert Louis-Dreyfus, the late former Adidas executive.

Louis-Dreyfus was a part owner of Swiss marketing agency Infront which acquired some World Cup television rights. He died in 2009. Another German soccer great and former Infront executive, Gunter Netzer, is listed to give evidence next Thursday.

The Swiss investigation was hampered by Qatar declining to help.

“The exact purpose of the total payments to Mohamed bin Hammam could not have been determined – also because a corresponding request for mutual legal assistance made by the (attorney general’s office) to the Qatari authorities in September 2016 remained unanswered until today,” Swiss federal prosecutors said last August when publishing indictments.

The case has tarnished the reputation of a World Cup that was a sporting and social success. It became known as Germany’s “Summer Fairytale” for restoring pride in national identity.

It is unclear if a scheduled three-week trial in Switzerland will provide resolution. There is also time pressure because a statute of limitations on the case is reached in late-April.

Though Blatter, FIFA president for 17 years, is only a witness in this case, a criminal proceeding was opened against him in 2015 for separate financial management issues. The allegation removed him from office but he denies wrongdoing and has never been charged.

Swiss prosecutors who have worked on at least 25 criminal proceedings linked to FIFA indicted three men last month, including Linsi’s successor as top administrator, Jerome Valcke.

Qatari television executive Nasser al-Khelaifi, who is also president of French champion Paris Saint-Germain, was charged with inciting Valcke to commit aggravated criminal mismanagement.

A bribery allegation against al-Khelaifi was dropped when FIFA reached a settlement deal with him in January to end a criminal complaint. He had been suspected of bribing Valcke with use of a luxury villa in Italy.

The federal prosecution office has also been through turmoil due to the FIFA probe. A senior prosecutor left in 2018 despite being cleared of alleged misconduct. Attorney general Michael Lauber was removed from the case last year by the Bellinzona court after secret meetings with FIFA president Gianni Infantino were revealed.

Switzerland’s investigation started with FIFA’s criminal complaint in November 2014 about suspected money laundering in the 2018-22 World Cup bidding contests, which were won by Russia and Qatar, respectively.

No charges have been announced directly connected to those World Cup campaigns.

Platini plans comeback, legal fight after 4-year FIFA ban

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NYON, Switzerland — Michel Platini is free to work in soccer again on Tuesday morning after his four-year ban by FIFA expires overnight.

The former UEFA president said Monday he is still unsure where and when he will return, and a comeback will likely force him to first pay FIFA a fine of 60,000 Swiss francs ($60,300) that is three years overdue.

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Platini told The Associated Press in an interview about his future plans: “I have some idea but it’s difficult to speak today.”

The 64-year-old Platini says he can “come back everywhere” but pointed out that the next elections for top roles at FIFA, UEFA and the French football association are “some years ahead.”

“I have time, if I come back to this” world, where he was once seen as the heir apparent to former FIFA President Sepp Blatter.

His current fight is still against the case of financial wrongdoing – and allegations linked to backdated FIFA salary and pension entitlement – that ended his bid to succeed Blatter. The charges were upheld so far by two FIFA judicial bodies, the Court of Arbitration for Sport and Switzerland’s supreme court.

Platini has challenged the Swiss federal ruling at the the European Court of Human Rights.

He says “that means I don’t pay this fine” while contesting the human rights case in Strasbourg in his native France.

That ongoing sense of injustice, and unpaid debt, could cause FIFA’s ethics committee to impede his return.

Platini suggests: “They will try to use what they want so that I don’t come back, I am sure.”

Soccer’s world body declined to comment Monday on its rules enforcing payment of fines.

FIFA did confirm that Blatter paid his fine of 50,000 Swiss francs ($50,250) first imposed in 2015.

Blatter is serving a six-year FIFA ban, upheld by CAS, for authorizing an uncontracted $2-million payment to Platini in 2011. Blatter also extended his former protege’s FIFA pension plan to add more than $1 million by 2015.

Report: Blatter to attend Portugal vs. Morocco as guest of Putin

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Former FIFA president Sepp Blatter is still in the middle of an eight-year ban from the organization he once ran.

But that doesn’t mean he’s going to miss out on some of the World Cup action, live in Russia.

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BBC journalist Richard Conway reported early Tuesday that Blatter is set to watch Portugal vs. Morocco in Moscow as a guest of Russian president Vladimir Putin. The 82-year-old would normally not be able to sit in the presidential box due to his FIFA ban, though he likely could attend matches with a regular ticket like the vast majority of soccer fans.

Just four years ago, Blatter was president during the 2014 World Cup, one that was marred by corruption scandals in addition to the corruption scandals surrounding the World Cup bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 tournaments.

His reign of power at FIFA finally came to an end on June 2, 2015, when he resigned following an embarrassing month for FIFA in which many of its members were arrested in a joint-raid between the Swiss authorities and the FBI.

Blatter was eventually handed an eight-year ban from FIFA’s ethics committee for an “unauthorized payment” of $2 million from Blatter to Michel Platini, the former France star and FIFA vice president who was also handed an eight-year suspension.