September 25 – In the most dramatic development to date in the entire FIFA corruption scandal, Swiss investigators today announced that they had opened criminal proceedings against Sepp Blatter on “suspicion of criminal mismanagement and misappropriation”.
An earlier than expected end to Blatter’s 17-year tenure looks increasingly likely after stunning allegations were issued by the Swiss Attorney-General’s office just as Blatter was about to address the world’s media following a two-day executive committee meeting.
Blatter is being investigated over the sale of World Cup TV rights to former FIFA vice-president Jack Warner and, even more sensationally, is “suspected of a disloyal payment of SFr 2 million to Michel Platini,” the UEFA president who is ironically bidding to succeed him.
The Office of the Attorney General statement read as follows:
“Criminal proceedings against the President of FIFA
Bern, 25.09.2015 – The Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland (OAG) has opened criminal proceedings against the President of Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) on suspicion of criminal mismanagement as well as – alternatively – on suspicion of misappropriation.
Swiss criminal proceedings against the President of FIFA, Mr. Joseph Blatter, have been opened on 24 September 2015 on suspicion of criminal mismanagement (Article 158 Swiss Criminal Code / SCC) and – alternatively – misappropriation (Article 138 Swiss Criminal Code / SCC).
On the one hand, the OAG suspects that on 12 September 2005 Mr. Joseph Blatter has signed a contract with the Caribbean Football Union (with Jack Warner as the President at this time); this contract was unfavorable for FIFA. On the other hand, there is as suspicion that, in the implementation of this agreement, Joseph Blatter also violated his fiduciary duties and acted against the interest of FIFA and/or FIFA Marketing & TV AG.
Additionally, Mr. Joseph Blatter is suspected of a disloyal payment of CHF 2 Mio. to Michel Platini, President of Union of European Football Associations (UEFA), at the expense of FIFA, which was allegedly made for work performed between January 1999 and June 2002 ; this payment was executed in February 2011.
On 25 September 2015, representatives of the OAG interrogated the defendant Joseph Blatter following a meeting of the FIFA Executive Committee. At the same time, Michel Platini was heard as a person asked to provide information (Article 178 of the Swiss Code of Criminal Procedure). Furthermore, the OAG conducted on 25 September 2015 a house search at FIFA Headquarters with the support of the Federal Criminal Police. The office of the FIFA President has been searched and data seized.
As for all defendants, the presumption of innocence applies for Mr. Joseph Blatter.”
As FIFA went into complete meltdown, several questions arose as a result of the bombshell inquiry against Blatter, whose office was reportedly searched by Swiss investigators in what rapidly developing into the most sensational story in FIFA history.
How long can he now remain in charge given that the allegations against him appear far more serious than those for which Jerome Valcke, his secretary-general, was suspended last week? Will he ultimately face arrest? And what happens to Platini, if anything, over the alleged “disloyal payment”, not least since the UEFA president is the front-runner to succeed Blatter on February 26?
Technically if Blatter were to be suspended, Issa Hayatou, FIFA’s senior vice-president but himself no stranger to controversy, would take over in an interim basis. But it is not known whether Hayatou had left Zurich when the news broke that Blatter was being investigated.
FIFA said in a statement they were co-operating with the authorities and would make no further comment but to have the most powerful man in world football being questioned with scores of media camped outside only added to an extraordinary set of circumstances, even by FIFA standards.
News of the criminal proceedings being opened against Blatter initially took everyone – including members of his executive committee – by surprise, with Blatter poised to address the media following a two-day exco session.
Yet it soon became apparent that something serious was afoot after FIFA took the unprecedented step of cancelling the post-exco news conference which was due to have been streamed live globally.
It had already been delayed by an hour but was then called off just minutes before the rescheduled start, much to the amazement of some 120 reporters and photographers who had travelled to Zurich.
All this led to immediate speculation that the sudden decision not to lay himself open to media questioning was linked in some way with either the US or Swiss anti-corruption probes that have jointly brought FIFA to its knees. And so it proved though it was somewhat surprising that the book was thrown at him not by the US justice department but by the authorities in his own country.
Whilst he had not been implicated in either inquiry to date, Blatter, who has always denied any wrongdoing, had become increasingly open to scrutiny.
Even more so when last week he lost Valcke, his trusted number two and main trouble-shooter who was suspended for his alleged role in a World Cup ticketing scam. Valcke emphatically denies he did anything wrong.