Sepp Blatter has always maintained his innocence, even after the world soccer federation, an organization he led from 1998 to 2015, collapsed after the global FIFAGate scandal. And, today, the octogenarian can claim a small victory after Swiss federal prosecutors indicted him for alleged mismanagement in connection with World Cup TV rights.
As FIFA’s general secretary, Blatter became the heir to the throne of João Havelange as the supremo of the global game, and in 1998 Switzerland defeated then-UEFA president Lennart Johansson in FIFA’s presidential election. Persistent claims of backroom agreements and brown envelopes tarnished his coronation, and set the tone for a controversial government, nearly two decades.
The World Cup grows into an unparalleled global spectacle. The windfall from this tournament strengthens FIFA’s bank account, but rumors of widespread corruption are never far away. Granting hosting rights for the World Cup, 22 football administrators on the executive committee of the governing body have extraordinary strength, prestige and influence. In 2010, they gave Russia and Qatar the World Cup, a decision that marked the beginning of the end for Blatter and his executive committee.
In 2015, he was forced to resign from his role after FIFAGate. That same year, Swiss prosecutors opened a criminal investigation into Blatter because of “unfair management suspicions and breaches of trust.” They suspected he had signed an “unprofitable contract for FIFA” with the Caribbean Football Union (CFU) for regional broadcast rights for the 2010 and 2014 World Cups.
At that time, Jack Warner, a member of FIFA’s executive committee, controlled CFU. TV rights were sold to broadcasters based in Jamaica for reported profits of close to $ 20 million. FIFA, under Blatter, has given CFU rights to a combined $ 600,000. Today, Warner lives in his native Trinidad & Tobago, where he is fighting extradition to the United States.
This sequence of events should have allowed Swiss prosecutors to build credible cases against Blatter, arguing that the former FIFA president gave TV rights below market value to a close associate who sat in the same executive body and in return guaranteed Blatter with a substantial number of votes in presidential election, but after five years and extending the Swiss attorney general will remove Blatter from fraudulent World Cup TV rights.
In a statement, it said that “the Swiss Attorney General’s Office … considers criminal investigations to be facts and partial allegations regarding the contractual relationship with the CFU as complete and ready to be concluded.”
However, 84-year-old Blatter is still facing a second investigation into a controversial payment of $ 2 million to Michel Platini, former president of UEFA.
The decision underscores the strange intrigue of the Swiss legal system, and suggests it protects sporting bodies, interested in the country’s generous tax system and banking secrecy laws. FIFA and the IOC are among a number of top sports federations, which have headquarters in Switzerland. In 2016, article 322 of the Swiss Criminal Code was enacted, punishing receipt of bribes in the private sector.
“Theoretically, this anti-corruption law applies to sports,” said Swiss sports journalist Patrick Oberli. “Maybe it has a deterrent effect. But again, it is very difficult to judge. I do not believe that the results of combating economic crime in corporations or multinational companies are better than in sports. ”
The role of the current Swiss attorney general Michael Lauber is also not without controversy. After spending a decade in Liechtenstein’s financial world in various roles, Lauber became the most powerful prosecutor in Switzerland in 2012. He met current FIFA president Gianni Infantino three times behind closed doors, while investigating allegations of corruption involving world soccer’s governing body.
After the disclosure, the Swiss parliament did not remove Lauber from his position, but the Swiss high court rejected the offer of attorney general Michael Lauber to rejoin investigations of corruption in football. Lauber has been reused and disciplined.
“It is a political decision by parliament to maintain it, but it is not ideal for its credibility and the credibility of the entire system,” Swiss sports lawyer Serge Vittoz said.
“In previous years, the Swiss Attorney General was largely regarded as a kind of chief of the Federal Police,” explained the leading Swiss lawyer François Carrard. “Swiss Cantons have never easily accepted interference from the Federal police in their problems, which caused difficulties between various regional attorneys and sometimes Federal Attorneys. At present, the Federal Attorney has a much stronger role than before. However, the difficulties that the prosecutor is currently aware of, Mr. Lauber, revealed that politically, his office was still categorized as a “hot seat”.