FIFA’s Sepp Blatter Under Criminal Investigation In Switzerland

It looks like maybe FIFA President Sepp Blatter was doing more than just turning a blind eye during the last decade and change while senior FIFA execs were accepting large bribes from various countries for favorable treatment.

Authorities in Switzerland announced on Friday afternoon that they are beginning criminal proceedings against FIFA president Sepp Blatter on “suspicion of criminal mismanagement and misappropriation.”

Based on a press release from the office of the Swiss attorney general, the case relates to Blatter assigning valuable World Cup TV rights to former FIFA official Jack Warner. The charges allege Blatter violated his fiduciary duty to FIFA by signing the contract in 2005, which it said was clearly “unfavorable to FIFA.” The key question is the trial will obviously be how do you differentiate between intentional fraud and poor negotiating/stupidity. Blatter’s lawyers are sure to argue he just signed the deal because he thought it was the best deal he could get (ie, the I’m stupid, not criminal defense).

FIFA's Sepp Blatter Under Criminal Investigation In SwitzerlandSwiss continue probe into FIFA President Sepp Blatter

Swiss broadcaster SRF posted excerpts of the TV rights contract in question on its website. The contract gave the Caribbean Football Union the TV broadcast rights to the 2010 and 2014 World Cups for a mere $600,000. Ex-FIFA exec Warner later licensed those rights for nearly 33 times that amount, close to $20 million.

The statement from Swiss AG’s office noted that Blatter is also accused of making a “disloyal payment” of two million Swiss francs (around $2 million) to UEFA president Michel Platini. Of note, Swiss prosecutors questioned Blatter after a FIFA executive committee meeting in Zurich on Friday, and also searched his office and seized electronic data as evidence.

Apparently Platini was also questioned. Platini is also a member of FIFA’s executive committee and has been considered by many to be the leading candidate to replace Blatter as FIFA president.

Sepp Blatter announcement

The announcement of charges against Blatter is a major development in the ongoing investigations of FIFA that kicked off earlier this summer with the arrest of 14 senior officials as they arrived for FIFA’s annual congress. The U.S. Department of Justice had issued the 14 arrest warrants, and the arrests were actually undertaken by Swiss law enforcement in Zurich on the morning of May 27th.

Of note, Sepp Blatter was not charged in the first arrests in May, but both U.S. and Swiss authorities noted at the time he was included in the ongoing investigation. Less than a week later, Blatter said he was resigning FIFA presidency he has held for 18 years. A special election has been called to pick his successor in February of next year.

The media was in a tizzy in Switzerland on Friday after FIFA first delayed and then eventually canceled a scheduled news conference by Sepp Blatter, and provided no explanation. A couple of hours later, the Swiss AG announced the charges against Blatter and the reason was clear. The executive committee of FIFA had been holding a routine meeting in Zurich since Wednesday that included operational details, and somewhat ironically, a set of proposed ethics reforms for soccer’s governing body.