Switzerland opens criminal proceedings against Blatter
The Swiss authorities said they were focusing on two transactions involving Blatter, one of which also involves Michel Platini, the head of European soccer’s governing body. The Swiss police interrogated Blatter on Friday and also searched, and seized data from, his office at the headquarters of FIFA, world soccer’s governing body.
Blatter, who is known as Sepp, had planned to take part in a news conference Friday afternoon after a scheduled meeting of FIFA’s executive committee, but the conference was first delayed and then abruptly canceled minutes before it was to begin. FIFA’s media office later sent out a statement in which it acknowledged that interrogations and searches had taken place.
The criminal case against Blatter is another significant development in a series of investigations that burst into public view in May with the arrest of 14 top soccer and marketing officials as they gathered for FIFA’s annual congress. The United States Department of Justice had issued those arrest warrants, which were carried out by the Swiss police at a luxury hotel in the early morning hours of May 27.
Blatter was not charged in the case at the <g data-gr-id="35">time,</g> though American and Swiss officials both said he was a target of investigators. Days later, he announced his intention to relinquish the FIFA presidency he has held since 1998. He called for a special election to pick his successor; that vote is set for February.
Richard Cullen, a lawyer with McGuireWoods who is representing Blatter, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.
A spokesman for Platini, who was also interviewed at FIFA on Friday by the Swiss authorities “as a person asked to provide information,” according to the office of the attorney general, also did not respond to a request for comment.
A United States law enforcement official said Friday’s announcement by the Swiss authorities was independent of the Justice Department’s investigation, which continues. But Swiss and American investigators continue to coordinate their efforts, and the teams met just last week. One part of the case announced Friday involves a contract Blatter is said to have signed that assigned valuable World Cup television rights to the control of an indicted former FIFA official, Jack Warner. Blatter is accused of violating his fiduciary duty to FIFA in his role as president by signing the contract in 2005, which it called “unfavorable to FIFA.”
The contract, obtained by the Swiss broadcaster SRF, which posted excerpts on its website, awarded the Caribbean Football Union rights to the 2010 and 2014 World Cups for a total of $600,000. Warner, in turn, licensed those rights, which were reportedly sold for roughly 33 times that amount, or $20 million.
The Swiss authorities also said Blatter was suspected of making a “disloyal payment” of two million Swiss francs — just over $2 million — to Platini. The payment, they said, was for work performed between January 1999 and June 2002 but was not made until February 2011, three months before Blatter won a fourth term as FIFA president. Platini is also a longtime member of FIFA’s ruling executive committee, and he is the leading candidate to replace Blatter as FIFA president in the special election. FIFA’s governing executive committee had been meeting in Zurich for two days this week to discuss routine business but also some proposed ethics reforms.