Former FIFA chief Blatter faces final hearing in payment probe


Geneva (AFP) – Sepp Blatter, the former world football chief, faces his final hearing with a Swiss prosecutor on Monday in a fraud probe surrounding a 2011 FIFA payment to Michel Platini.

Former FIFA president Joseph “Sepp” Blatter, 85, said he was optimistic ahead of the hearing and hoped that the long-running saga would finally draw to an end.

Blatter is being investigated over a two million Swiss franc ($2.2 million, 1.85 million euro) payment to Platini, who was then in charge of European football’s governing body UEFA.

Blatter is due to meet with a federal prosecutor from the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) of Switzerland.

The hearing in Zurich, where FIFA has its headquarters, is due to start at 9:00am (0700 GMT). Due to Blatter’s fragile health, it can only last for around 90 minutes, meaning it could reconvene on Tuesday.

The final hearing in the investigation was postponed to August due to the retired Swiss football administrator’s condition.

In March he was convalescing in a clinic after spending two months in hospital in December and January.

– Questioned ‘one last time’ –

Blatter became FIFA’s general secretary in 1981 and the president of world football’s governing body in 1998.

Blatter was forced to stand down in 2015 and was originally banned by FIFA for eight years, later reduced to six, over ethics breaches when he authorised what prosecutors termed a “disloyal payment” to Platini — in other words, one made in his interests rather than FIFA’s.

Blatter and Platini, 66, found themselves at the centre of a Swiss investigation.

“Specifically, the criminal proceedings against Joseph Blatter are now being conducted on suspicion of fraud, breach of trust and unfaithful business management,” the OAG said in a statement.

“The criminal proceedings against Michel Platini are being conducted on suspicion of fraud, participation in breach of trust, participation in unfaithful management and false documents.”

Platini’s final hearings with the prosecutor took place in March.

“The final interviews with Joseph Blatter in the same part of the proceedings had to be postponed to August 2021 for health reasons,” the OAG said.

Under the Code of Criminal Procedure, in lengthy and complex proceedings, “the accused are questioned one last time before the investigation is concluded, and asked to comment on the results of the investigation”, the OAG added.

“Conducting final interviews does not allow any conclusions to be drawn about the outcome of criminal proceedings (discontinuation, penalty order or indictment).”

– ‘Late payment of wages’ –

Blatter is not expected to comment on his way in or out of the hearing, but issued a statement in advance.

“I look forward to the final hearing with optimism — and hope that this story will come to an end,” he said.

“After all, this case goes back to an event that happened 10 years ago.”

Blatter insisted the payment to former France and Juventus attacking midfielder Platini, considered among world football’s greatest-ever players, was above board.

“Regarding the payment of the sum of two million francs from FIFA to Michel Platini, I can only repeat myself: It was based on an oral contract that regulated Platini’s advisory activities for FIFA between 1998 and 2002,” he said.

“The payment was delayed because FIFA was initially unable to pay out the entire amount — and Platini only made the claim in 2010.

“The process was correctly declared as a late payment of wages, the social insurance was accounted for accordingly and finally approved by all responsible FIFA bodies.”

The OAG said the presumption of innocence applied to all parties in the proceedings and it could not put a time frame on concluding the investigation.

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