Zurich - Embattled Sepp Blatter was urged
to stand down as FIFA president on Saturday after he was placed under a
criminal investigation as his heir-apparent Michel Platini also came under
scrutiny over a murky multi-million-dollar payment.
In a dramatic escalation of the corruption
scandal engulfing world football Swiss investigators accompanied by Swiss
police swept into FIFA's headquarters on Friday as their attention turned to Blatter
"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
This stunning development came after months
of probes following raids in Zurich which led to the indictment of more than a
dozen top officials.
Swiss prosecutors said Blatter was being
investigated over the 2005 sale of World Cup television rights to the Caribbean
Football Union, then run by his former ally Jack Warner, a deal which had been
"unfavourable for FIFA".
Blatter was also suspected of a
"disloyal payment" of two million dollars to Platini in February 2011
allegedly made for work the Frenchman carried out for FIFA between 1999 and
2002, before he was elected head of UEFA.
Saturday's headlines in the Swiss press
made uncomfortable reading for the beleaguered Blatter.
"Blatter should go as quickly as
possible" was the blunt advice given to the 79-year-old football strongman
by Neue Zurcher Zeitung.
"It is imperative that he now at least
quickly abandons ship," the daily suggested in an editorial.
Blick's front page headline was bleaker:
"Blatter risks jail....Twilight years behind bars?"
Swiss authorities said Blatter was
questioned as "a suspect", while Platini had been quizzed "as a
person called upon to give information".
Blatter's lawyer Richard Cullen stressed
that the FIFA boss was cooperating with Swiss authorities and that a review of
the evidence would show "no mismanagement occurred".
Platini defended the payment he received in
2011, made three months before the Frenchman announced he would not challenge
Blatter for re-election during that year's race for the FIFA presidency.
"Concerning the payment that was made
to me, I wish to state that this amount relates to work which I carried out
under a contract with FIFA," said the UEFA boss.
"I was pleased to have been able to
clarify all matters relating to this with the authorities."
But he offered no explanation as to why the
payment had arrived almost a decade after the work had been completed.
However, a former FIFA insider, who requested
anonymity, told AFP that Platini's hopes of being elected to replace Blatter
next year had been damaged by Friday's revelations.
"Platini took a serious blow" by
even being mentioned in the Swiss statement, the source said.
Blatter "is finished now ... Platini
will struggle to recover from being questioned".
Friday's turn of events came after a press
conference that Blatter was scheduled to give was suddenly cancelled.
Platini is a former Blatter ally who turned
against the veteran Swiss sports baron over the past 18 months as FIFA's
The investigation is also into Blatter's
links with Warner, a former FIFA vice-president now at the centre of a US
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.
A Trinidad court on Friday announced it
would rule on December 2 on whether Warner should be extradited to the United
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
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
Since then, FIFA has announced steps to
make reforms but has been shaken by new corruption claims.
FIFA this month suspended Blatter's
right-hand man Jerome Valcke after he was accused of involvement in an accord
to sell tickets for the 2014 World Cup at inflated prices.
Valcke strongly denied the allegations but
FIFA handed over emails from the suspended secretary general that had been
demanded by the Swiss attorney general.