Swiss Open Criminal Proceedings Against FIFA’s Leader Sepp Blatter
On Friday Swiss prosecutors announced that they had opened criminal proceedings against the embattled FIFA president, Sepp Blatter, on “suspicion of criminal mismanagement and misappropriation.”
The case involves a contract Mr. Blatter is said to have signed that assigned valuable World Cup television rights to the control of an indicted former FIFA official, Jack Warner, according to a news release from the office of the Swiss attorney general. The new charges accuse Mr. Blatter of violating his fiduciary duty to FIFA in his role as president by signing the contract in 2005, which it called “unfavorable to FIFA.”
The contract, obtained by the Swiss broadcaster SRF, which posted excerpts on its website, awarded the Caribbean Football Union rights to the 2010 and 2014 World Cups for a total $600,000. Mr. Warner in turn licensed those rights, which were reportedly sold for roughly 33 times that amount, or $20 million.
The Swiss authorities also said that Mr. Blatter is suspected of making a “disloyal payment” of two million Swiss francs — just over $2 million — to the UEFA president, Michel Platini. Swiss prosecutors interrogated Mr. Blatter after an executive committee meeting in Zurich on Friday, and said they also searched his office and seized data.
Mr. Platini, another member of the executive committee and the leading candidate to replace Mr. Blatter as FIFA president, also was asked to provide information.
The criminal case against Mr. Blatter is another significant development in a series of investigations that burst into public view in May with the arrest of 14 top soccer and marketing officials as they gathered for FIFA’s annual congress. The United States Department of Justice had issued those arrest warrants, which were carried out by the Swiss police at a luxury hotel in the early morning hours of May 27.
Mr. Blatter was not charged in the case at the time, though American and Swiss officials both said he was a target of investigators, but days later he announced his intention to relinquish the FIFA presidency he has held since 1998. He called for a special election to pick his successor; that vote is set for February.
Richard Cullen, a lawyer with McGuireWoods who is representing Mr. Blatter, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday.
The news of the charges against Mr. Blatter came hours after FIFA first delayed and then canceled his scheduled news conference, without explanation. FIFA’s governing executive committee had been meeting in Zurich for two days to discuss routine business but also some proposed ethics reforms.
Earlier Friday, FIFA confirmed the dates of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, carving out a tight 28-day window for the tournament that ensures it will be over before Christmas. The champion will be crowned on Qatar’s national day, Dec. 18.
The dates for the World Cup — Nov. 21 to Dec. 18 — were set as part of a competition calendar approved by the executive committee.
Qatar had won the right to host in 2010 over several other countries, all of them bidding for a World Cup in its traditional June-July window. But concerns about the searing heat of the Gulf summer, evident even before the vote, led FIFA to move the tournament to the winter. FIFA had announced the date of the final six months ago, as well as the concept of a shorter 28-day event; Friday’s executive committee announcement confirmed that schedule.
The shorter tournament will still disrupt league schedules in much of the world in ways that a summer event did not. Placing a start date of Nov. 21 on the official FIFA calendar means that clubs are obligated to release players to their national teams a week earlier, on Nov. 14.
Rebecca R. Ruiz contributed reporting from New York.