Sepp Blatter

Sepp Blatter, Michel Platini indicted for fraud in Switzerland

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GENEVA — Former FIFA officials Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini were charged with fraud and other offenses by Swiss prosecutors on Tuesday after a six-year investigation into a controversial $2 million payment.

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The 85-year-old Blatter and 66-year-old Platini now face a trial within months at federal criminal court in Bellinzona. They could be jailed for several years if found guilty.

“This payment damaged FIFA’s assets and unlawfully enriched Platini,” Swiss federal prosecutors said in a statement.

The case was opened in September 2015 and ousted Blatter ahead of schedule as FIFA president. It also ended then-UEFA president Platini’s campaign to succeed his former mentor.

Swiss cases often take years to reach a conclusion.

The case centers on Platini’s written request to FIFA in January 2011 to be paid backdated additional salary for working as a presidential adviser in Blatter’s first term, from 1998-2002.

Blatter authorized FIFA to make the payment within weeks. He was preparing to campaign for re-election in a contest against Mohamed bin Hammam of Qatar, where Platini’s influence with European voters was seen as a key factor.

“The evidence gathered by the (attorney general’s office) has corroborated that this payment to Platini was made without a legal basis,” prosecutors said.

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Both Blatter and Platini have long denied wrongdoing and cited a verbal agreement they had made, now more than 20 years ago, for the money to be paid.

Blatter has been charged with fraud, mismanagement, misappropriation of FIFA funds and forgery of a document. Platini has been charged with fraud, misappropriation, forgery and as an accomplice to Blatter’s alleged mismanagement.

Fraud and forgery charges can be punished with jail sentences of up to five years.

“I view the proceedings at the federal criminal court with optimism – and hope that, with this, this story will come to an end and all the facts will be worked through cleanly,” Blatter said in a statement.

Platini, a French soccer great, was not placed under formal investigation until last year, and months later the more serious allegation of fraud was included against both men.

Prosecutors had opened criminal proceedings against Blatter in September 2015 ahead of a police raid at FIFA headquarters in Zurich on the day he and Platini attended a meeting of the soccer body’s executive committee.

That came four months after a sweeping U.S. Department of Justice corruption investigation into world soccer was revealed with early-morning arrests of officials from the Americas at luxury hotels in Zurich.

In the fallout of those May 2015 hotel raids, and only days after being elected FIFA president for a fifth time, Blatter announced his plan to resign and call another vote to find a successor.

Platini had long been the expected FIFA heir but his campaign was derailed by the police visit to FIFA’s offices even though he was not yet a suspect.

The FIFA ethics committee soon suspended both men for several weeks before banning each for six years.

Platini’s ban was later reduced to four years by the Court of Arbitration for Sport on appeal, and he was cleared to return to soccer duty in October 2019. He had been linked to seeking a seat on the executive board of FIFPRO, the global group of soccer player unions.

Blatter has been in poor health and a final round of questioning by Swiss investigators was delayed until August.

After undergoing heart surgery last December, Blatter spent a week in an induced coma.

Blatter also faces a separate criminal proceeding related to authorizing a $1 million FIFA payment to Trinidad and Tobago in 2010 into the control of then-FIFA vice president Jack Warner. Two former FIFA officials are also suspects in that investigation.

The Swiss investigations of Blatter, and later Platini, were refocused after prosecutor Thomas Hildbrand joined the case following turmoil in the attorney general’s office. The former lead prosecutor, Olivier Thormann, left the federal office in late-2018 after being cleared of a complaint of misconduct in the investigation.

Hildbrand, who is from the same hometown as Blatter, was then brought on to the investigation team with the reputation of having led a previous high-profile case tied to FIFA: the 2001 financial collapse of World Cup marketing agency ISL. Blatter’s lawyers failed in court to have Hildbrand removed from the current case.

The attorney general who was overseeing FIFA investigations in Switzerland, Michael Lauber, resigned last year because of misconduct. He was found to have misled an internal investigation into his undeclared meetings with current FIFA president Gianni Infantino.

Infantino was elected to lead FIFA in 2016 after stepping in to be UEFA’s emergency election candidate when Platini was suspended and then banned.

Blatter banned by FIFA a 2nd time for financial wrongdoing

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ZURICH — Sepp Blatter was banned for a second time by FIFA on Wednesday for financial wrongdoing, seven months before the 85-year-old former president’s first ban expires.

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Blatter has recently been in poor health and was put in an induced coma for one week after undergoing heart surgery in December.

FIFA said its ethics committee banned both Blatter and former secretary general Jerome Valcke for six years and eight months for financial wrongdoing linked to awarding themselves contractual bonuses worth millions of dollars.

Both men, who also face criminal proceedings in Switzerland, will start serving the new bans when their current ones expire.

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Blatter and Valcke were previously banned for six years and 10 years, respectively, in separate cases. Blatter’s first ban expires in October and Valcke’s initial ban will be served in October 2025.

In the latest case, both men were each fined 1 million Swiss francs ($1.07 million) and ordered to pay within 30 days. It is unclear what power FIFA has to enforce payment.

FIFA’s allegations of self-dealing in bonus payments led to former finance director Markus Kattner being banned for 10 years last year.

Sepp Blatter questioned in FIFA investigation in Switzerland

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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.

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.