Friday, September 25, 2015 10:49 pm
Swiss prosecutors have opened a criminal investigation into Sepp Blatter, the head of world soccer body FIFA.
He is being investigated on suspicion of criminal mismanagement and misappropriation, the Swiss attorney general’s office said on Friday.
It said Blatter was interrogated after a meeting of FIFA’s executive committee in Zurich, and authorities carried out a search at FIFA headquarters on Friday.
“The office of the FIFA President has been searched and data seized,” the office of the attorney general (OAG) said in a statement.
U.S. and Swiss authorities announced in May they were investigating corruption at the highest levels of the world’s most popular sport, including in the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 world cups to Russia and Qatar.
Fourteen soccer officials and sports marketing executives were indicted at that time, but until Friday authorities had not pointed the finger at Blatter, the 79-year-old Swiss who has run FIFA since 1998.
He has denied wrongdoing.
Blatter was questioned by the OAG’s representatives, and Michel Platini, the former French soccer star who runs European soccer body UEFA, was also asked to give information, the statement said.
Platini is favourite to win the election to replace Blatter when he steps down in February.
A Swiss law enforcement source said that Platini had provided Swiss prosecutors with evidence against Blatter and was not regarded as a target of investigators at this point.
The source said that Swiss prosecutors were also in touch with several other witnesses at various levels of FIFA and its affiliates who have expressed interest in giving evidence about corruption in the organisation.
Swiss investigators have been putting together their case against Blatter for some time, a law enforcement official said.
The official said Blatter was not in custody and was free to travel, though he has largely avoided leaving Switzerland since May.
The OAG statement said that Blatter was suspected of a “disloyal payment” of two million Swiss francs (2.05 million dollars) to Platini at the expense of FIFA, allegedly made for work performed between January 1999 and June 2002.
The payment was executed in February 2011, the OAG said.
According to the Swiss criminal code, Blatter could, if convicted, face a custodial sentence of up to five years depending on the circumstances of the offense.
A spokeswoman for U.S. prosecutors declined to comment on news of the Swiss investigation.
Blatter has survived a series of scandals during his term in office including widespread accusations that Qatar bought the right to stage the 2022 World Cup.
Qatar has always denied any wrongdoing.
Despite widespread calls for Blatter’s resignation when the U.S. indictments were issued in May, accompanied by a series of arrests, he refused to withdraw his candidacy for another term at the helm of FIFA.
He was duly re-elected, telling delegates: “Football needs a strong and experienced leader.”
As the scandal reverberated around the world and his position became untenable, he announced only days later that he would step down, though for the time being he remains in office until the election of his successor.
“FIFA has been my life … what counts most for me is FIFA and football around the world,” he said at the time.