Sepp Blatter under investigation but not ready to step down
Due to a ‘disloyal’ payment to Michel Platini, Sepp Blatter has become the focus in the Swiss investigation into FIFA corruption, placing both under scrutiny from several sides.
The Swiss Attorney General’s Office has directed their spotlight at the top of FIFA and has opened criminal proceedings against FIFA president Sepp Blatter. On Friday 25 September, Blatter was questioned on suspicion of criminal mismanagement as well as of a ‘disloyal payment’ of CHF 2 Mio made to UEFA president Michel Platini in 2011 for work carried out between 1998 and 2002.
Blatter’s lawyers have stated that he is cooperating with authorities and has reiterated that “he had done nothing illegal or improper and stated that he would remain as president of Fifa”, AP writes.
In a letter to UEFA member federations, Platini explained the payment under scrutiny by the Swiss authorities:
“I wish to clarify that for the period 1998 to 2002 I was employed by Fifa to work on a wide range of matters relating to football,” Platini wrote.
“It was a full-time job and my functions were known by all. The remuneration was agreed at the time and after initial payments were made, the final outstanding amount of 2m Swiss francs was paid in February of 2011.”
According to Platini, the payment was postponed due to financial problems in FIFA.
Observers call this explanation at the least insufficient and also raise speculations towards the time of the payment; February 2011. This was few months before Blatter won the FIFA presidency unopposed having won the support from Platini who had initially considered to run against him. A few months earlier, Russia and Qatar had won the World Cup hosting rights for 2018 and 2022, respectively.
While no FA has yet pulled back their support for Platini as the next FIFA president, the case has led otherwise loyal Platini supporters to question his ability to take over the leadership.
The English FA issued a statement earlier this week saying that the “events of recent days have raised a number of issues which do need to be fully examined.”
According to Reuters, the German FA has pointed to the need for a careful look into possible ‘misconduct’.
And also the German Football League (DFL) has called for a more credible explanation from Platini.
“What Platini has told us so far is just not enough,” said Reinhard Rauball, DFL president according to PA. “Michel Platini has to give credible explanation to the public and football fans - and that is the emphasis: credible.”
And from being the bookmakers’ clear favorite, Platini is now only slightly ahead of Prince Ali bin al-Hussein who in May lost the FIFA president election to Sepp Blatter.
Call for independent leadership
Although already vocal, the call for Sepp Blatter to step down has reached new heights in the wake of the Swiss announcement and commentators agree that a new independent leadership must take over the scandal-ridden organisation.
“The house of FIFA is tumbling down,” said Damian Collins, member of UK Parliament and co-founder of #NewFifaNow in a press release.
"The 209 football associations around the world must surely understand what the rest of the world already knows - that FIFA cannot reform itself,” Collins said.
Former chairman of FIFA’s Independent Governance Committee, Mark Pieth, was more specific in his suggestion, naming former head of the German FA Theo Zwanziger as a person who would be able to help FIFA back on track with his combination of knowhow and independence, he said in an interview with German paper Sonntagsblick.
Alexandra Wrage, who left Pieth’s committee in protest of FIFA’s lack of will to reform, calls for both Blatter and Platini to step down and to let a “blue ribbon panel” of experts take over and lead the organisation through the necessary reforms.
“Clinging to leadership role during criminal investigation at headquarters is almost unheard of – regardless of level of personal guilt,” she said on Twitter.
While Blatter and Platini have denied any wrongdoing, they could face suspension if the FIFA Ethics Committee decides to open an investigation into the circumstances of the controversial payment.
There has yet been no formal statement regarding an ethics committee investigation being opened, but committee spokesman Andreas Bantel said that “If there is an initial suspicion, the investigatory chamber initiates a formal procedure,” writes AFP.