The FIFA scandal on Friday engulfed Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini, the two most powerful figures in world football with Swiss prosecutors investigating whether a two million dollar payment from Blatter to the French legend was illegal.
Swiss investigators opened criminal proceedings against FIFA president Blatter and searched his office and also quizzed UEFA counterpart Platini.
“Swiss criminal proceedings against the President of FIFA, Mr. Joseph Blatter, have been opened on September 24, 2015 on suspicion of criminal mismanagement…and – alternatively – misappropriation,” said a statement from Switzerland’s attorney general’s office (OAG).
Blatter, 79, is standing down because of corruption scandals involving other top officials and Platini had been favourite to win an election to be held in February to succeed him.
The Swiss prosecutor said that “the defendant Joseph Blatter” had been questioned and “the office of the FIFA President has been searched and data seized.”
Blatter was questioned as “a suspect”. The statement added that Platini had been questioned “as a person called upon to give information”.
Platini, 60, has been head of UEFA since January 2007 which made him an automatic FIFA vice-president.
Blatter’s lawyer Richard Cullen said in a statement that the FIFA boss was cooperating with Swiss authorities and that a review of the evidence would show “no mismanagement occurred”.
I’m shocked that the Swiss prosecutors have opened a criminal investigation into Sepp Blatter. Shocked that it’s taken so long.
— Gary Lineker (@GaryLineker) September 25, 2015
Platini’s office refused to make an immediate comment on the Swiss case.
Blatter “is suspected of making a disloyal payment of 2.0 million Swiss francs ($2.04 million/1.8 million euros) to Michel Platini, president of Union of European Football Associations (UEFA), at the expense of FIFA,” the OAG said.
The alleged payment was made in February 2011 “for work performed between January 1999 and June 2002.”
Friday’s dramatic turn of events came after a press conference, that Blatter was scheduled to give, was cancelled.
Platini is a former Blatter ally who turned against the veteran Swiss sports baron over the past 18 months as FIFA’s troubles mounted.
The investigation is also into Blatter’s links with Jack Warner, a former FIFA vice-president now at the centre of a US investigation.
The attorney general said Blatter was suspected of making a deal “unfavourable to FIFA” with the Caribbean Football Union, which Warner used as his power base.
According to Blatter’s lawyer Cullen, who is based in Virginia, that contract was “properly prepared and negotiated” by FIFA staff with responsibility for such matters.
A Trinidad court on Friday announced that it would rule on December 2 on whether Warner should be extradited to the United States. The court rejected Warner’s request to be freed.
Warner is one of 14 soccer officials and business executives charged by US prosecutors of involvement in more than $150 million in bribes for football broadcasting and marketing deals.
Nearly all of the suspects are from central and south America. Until recent days, FIFA’s top leadership had escaped accusations flying around the world body, which earns $5 billion from the World Cup.
Swiss officials arrested seven FIFA officials, who are among the US suspects, on May 27 in Zurich just ahead of the world body’s congress.
Blatter was re-elected to a fifth term at the congress despite the storm but then announced on June 4 that he would stand down.