The long arm of the law is getting closer and closer to the most powerful officials in world soccer, and it doesn’t get more powerful than Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini. On Friday, the Swiss attorney general announced it had opened criminal proceedings against Blatter, who is set to end his 18-year tenure as FIFA president when a new one is elected next February 26.
The Swiss announcement said Blatter was under suspicion of criminal mismanagement and misappropriation. It highlighted two potential improprieties: A contract signed in 2005 by Blatter that gave World Cup TV rights at a below-market rate to the Caribbean Football Union, whose head, former FIFA VP Jack Warner, later sold the rights for a personal profit; and a $2.13 million payment of FIFA money made in February 2011 by Blatter to Platini, the current UEFA president, for work done from 1999 to 2002.
In both instances, the Swiss are pursuing the possibility that Blatter acted against the interests of FIFA and violated his fiduciary duty as the organization’s president.
Blatter’s lawyer denied any wrongdoing. As for Platini, who has announced his FIFA presidential candidacy and entered the day as the favorite to replace Blatter, he has not yet been accused of any improper behavior by the Swiss.
Investigators spoke to Blatter and Platini on Friday after the close of the two-day FIFA executive committee meeting in Zurich, with FIFA postponing and then ultimately canceling Blatter's scheduled press conference.
Platini released a statement Friday that his payment came as the result of work completed in a contract with FIFA, but he didn’t explain why it took nine years to pay him.
The criminal proceedings against Blatter make for the latest bombshell in the FIFA scandal, which burst open on May 27 with the arrests of seven soccer officials in Zurich and the release of the U.S. Department of Justice’s 47-count indictment against 14 individuals alleging racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering conspiracy.
Friday’s news raises all sorts of serious questions. Like: How on earth can Blatter avoid being suspended in his duties as FIFA president? (His right-hand man, general secretary Jérôme Valcke, was suspended just last week despite not facing criminal charges.) And: Why would Blatter pay Platini $2.13 million in February 2011 for work done a decade earlier?
Well, one big decision Platini made in early 2011 was not to run against Blatter for the FIFA presidency that year. So there’s that. We’ll hope to learn more about Platini’s role in the payment soon, but it certainly makes you wonder if he’s the right guy to replace Blatter and lead FIFA into a supposedly cleaner, more progressive new era.
It also makes you wonder if there’s any way for FIFA to really change if it’s just the same old leaders who are going to be sticking around.