Thursday, October 29, 2020

Former world soccer chief Sepp Blatter probed over $1 million loan


Former FIFA president Sepp Blatter is the target of a criminal investigation in Switzerland for suspected mismanagement of a $1 million payment from soccer funds.

Blatter has been notified by Swiss federal prosecutors he is an “accused person” over a loan FIFA gave in 2010 to the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association, according to a document seen by The Associated Press.

The 84-year-old Blatter has denied any wrongdoing during decades of financial scandals linked to soccer’s world governing body, though he was banned from the presidency and risks being brought to trial in his home country.

The payment now publicly revealed came from a FIFA account on April 13, 2010, and was interest-free, unsecured and later waived as a kind of gift, the document detailed.

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It is the latest allegation in Swiss and American federal investigations tying FIFA to irregular payments benefiting Jack Warner, its former vice president from Trinidad who is fighting extradition to the United States.

Warner long controlled a key bloc in FIFA elections until he left soccer after being implicated in bribing voters to oppose Blatter in 2011. He was also an elected lawmaker in the Caribbean nation and became a government minister after a general election held in May 2010.

Two former senior FIFA officials, Jerome Valcke as secretary general and Markus Kattner as finance director, are also named as accused persons.

The Swiss federal prosecution office said in a statement Saturday that criminal proceedings against Blatter were extended last month to include Valcke and Kattner. The office said both men, who were fired by FIFA in 2016, have the presumption of innocence.

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The investigation document is dated May 13, 2020, several weeks after the office said it was closing one of two criminal proceedings opened against Blatter five years earlier.

The allegation to be dropped was that Blatter mismanaged a World Cup broadcast deal for the Caribbean that let Warner personally profit by millions of dollars.

That prosecution decision revealed in April suggested Blatter could be cleared by Swiss justice after years under suspicion and while serving a six-year ban by FIFA’s ethics committee. It expires in October 2021.

The Swiss prosecution document does not directly connect the timing of FIFA’s $1 million payment with the general election in Trinidad and Tobago.

Warner did try to link FIFA officials to his domestic political career in a June 2015 television appearance in his home country. That came within days of Blatter announcing plans to resign his 17-year FIFA presidency in fallout from the American and Swiss federal investigations.

Warner had been an opposition lawmaker since 2007. After a transition of power in the May 2010 election, Warner became minister for works and transport. He was voted out of his parliamentary seat in 2015 several months after being indicted by the U.S. Department of Justice.

The corruption charges against Warner included getting a $10 million bribe from 2010 World Cup host South Africa routed through FIFA.

A fresh indictment published in April alleged Warner was paid $5 million by Russian interests as bribes to support the country’s winning bid to host the 2018 World Cup. Warner dismissed the allegations in comments reported by Trinidadian media.

The Swiss investigation is being overseen, according to the document seen by the AP, by prosecutor Thomas Hildbrand, who previously closed the file on FIFA’s Caribbean TV deal.

Hildbrand joined the federal team handling soccer investigations last year amid turmoil in the prosecution office. The lead prosecutor of white-collar financial crime left in 2018 despite being cleared of a formal complaint about his conduct in FIFA cases.

In a FIFA bribery scandal that came to a Swiss criminal court in 2008, Hildbrand prosecuted executives of the ISL marketing agency which sold World Cup broadcast rights and routinely paid kickbacks.

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A Swiss criminal proceeding has also been open against Blatter since September 2015 related to FIFA payments to former UEFA president Michel Platini. That allegation led to FIFA’s ethics committee banning both men from soccer.

The latest criminal case against Blatter’s former right-hand man Valcke follows charges filed against him in February. He allegedly took bribes totaling $1.4 million linked to awarding World Cup broadcast rights in Italy and Greece.

Separate allegations connect Valcke to Nasser al-Khelaifi, the Qatari president of French champion Paris Saint-Germain who also runs Doha-based broadcaster beIN Sports Group.

Al-Khelaifi has been charged with inciting Valcke to commit aggravated criminal mismanagement over the former FIFA administrator allegedly getting use of a luxury villa on an Italian island in 2014 and 2015.

Both men deny wrongdoing and their trial, along with a third man, is scheduled to open Sept. 14 in Switzerland’s federal criminal court.


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