French soccer HQ raided in Swiss case against Blatter

Posted at 7:20 AM, Mar 09, 2016

GENEVA (AP) — Evidence has been seized in a search at the French soccer federation headquarters for a criminal case against former FIFA president Sepp Blatter, Swiss federal prosecutors said Wednesday.

The office of Switzerland's attorney general said the governing body for French soccer consented to the search carried out Tuesday, at offices near the Eiffel Tower in central Paris, with the cooperation of the French Financial Prosecution Office.

The raid is the first reported action outside Switzerland in a criminal proceeding opened against Blatter last September for suspected financial mismanagement and misappropriation of FIFA money. Blatter turns 80 on Thursday.

It focuses on a $2 million payment Blatter approved from FIFA funds for Michel Platini in 2011. The previously secret transaction wrecked the former France great's bid to become FIFA president when it was revealed by Swiss prosecutors six months ago.

"Documents were seized in connection with the suspected payment," the Swiss federal prosecution office said in a statement Wednesday. A formal request for help from French authorities had been made on Jan. 14.

Though no criminal case is yet open against Platini, the suspended president of European soccer body UEFA, Switzerland's attorney general Michael Lauber has previously said he is "between a witness and an accused person."

"Michel Platini's status in the proceedings has remained unchanged," Lauber's office said Wednesday.

Platini's lawyers said in a statement Wednesday that the Swiss intervention was a positive step.

"We welcome this new stage because the sooner Swiss justice completes the investigation, the sooner Michel Platini will get out of the news headlines in which he does not belong," the statement said.

Platini was based in Paris rather than at FIFA's home in Zurich when he worked as Blatter's presidential adviser from 1999-2002. Then, the French federation's offices were on Avenue d'Iena, near the Arc de Triomphe.

The federation, now working from a building fronted by glass panels on Boulevard de Grenelle, issued no statement early Wednesday about the raid.

French media reported that the documents seized related to a contract between the federation and Platini for rented office space in 1999-2002.

Lauber previously seized documents in December from European soccer body UEFA, based in Nyon, Switzerland, where Platini has been president since 2007. That elected job gave him FIFA vice president status.

Platini and Blatter were suspended from office in October by FIFA's ethics committee and are now serving six-year bans. They have constantly denied wrongdoing and are appealing against their sanctions at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Before details of the $2 million deal emerged in September, Platini was the leading candidate to succeed his one-time mentor Blatter as president in FIFA's emergency election on Feb. 26.

Lauber alleged the "disloyal payment" as part of a wider investigation of FIFA business that has spun off the governing body's initial complaint about suspected money laundering in the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bidding contests.

The case against Blatter also involves alleged misappropriation of FIFA funds during his more than 17 years as FIFA president, which formally ended two weeks ago.

He allegedly arranged an undervalued deal for 2010-2014 World Cup broadcast rights for the Caribbean with former FIFA vice president Jack Warner.

Blatter and Platini claim they had a verbal deal for additional salary, after Platini asked Blatter for annual pay of 1 million Swiss francs when approached in 1998 to work for the newly-elected president.

Blatter said there was a contract for 300,000 Swiss francs, the same as FIFA's then secretary general in line with its salary structure, plus a "gentleman's agreement" to get the rest later.

Swiss law obliged FIFA only to pay the deferred money within five years. It was not until 2010 that Platini asked for the balance, and was paid in February 2011.

That timing has raised suspicion as the payment came during a FIFA presidential election campaign. UEFA later urged its members to support Blatter — who promised them it would be his final term — against Mohamed bin Hammam of Qatar.

Blatter won that 2011 election unopposed after Bin Hammam was implicated in bribing Caribbean voters. From then on, Platini was the likely successor to lead FIFA, though Blatter won another election last May before being forced out by a growing corruption crisis.

Instead, Platini's long-time right-hand man at UEFA, general secretary Gianni Infantino, won the presidential election last month.