Zurich - Since the explosive indictments and arrests of
international soccer officials in May, FIFA President Sepp Blatter --
previously a prolific traveler -- had only once left his home base of
In the end, he wasn't even safe in his own office.
On Friday morning, staff from the Swiss Attorney General's
Office (OAG) arrived at FIFA's headquarters building high in the hills above
According to a person with knowledge of Friday's events, the
team of around 15 officials, including prosecutors and Swiss police, arrived to
search Blatter's office while he was attending a meeting of FIFA's ruling
executive committee. The officials seized unspecified data, the OAG said.
The prosecutors waited until the meeting had ended before
approaching the 79-year-old FIFA boss and taking him quietly to a conference
room near his office, where they told him he was under a criminal probe and
interviewed him for several hours.
Swiss Attorney General Michael Lauber was not present and a
senior deputy led the questioning, the source said.
Also read: FIFA scandal engulfs Blatter and Platini
Although Blatter was not expecting the raid, some within
FIFA had been told something was coming, a FIFA source said.
While a group of around 150 reporters was told that a
scheduled news conference from Blatter had been canceled, Lauber's office was
preparing a statement.
That came in the form of a press release from the OAG
announcing that they had opened "criminal proceedings" against
Blatter on "suspicion of criminal mismanagement as well as - alternatively
- on suspicion of misappropriation".
The raid marked a new chapter in the FIFA scandal that began
in May when 14 soccer officials and sports marketing executives were indicted
in the United States on bribery, money laundering and wire fraud charges.
A Swiss national who has run soccer's powerful governing
body for the past 17 years, Blatter has now for the first time become the focus
of a criminal investigation.
Blatter, who announced in June he would step down next
February, has denied wrongdoing and his U.S. attorney said he was cooperating
with the Swiss probe. He has not been charged with a crime in Switzerland and
is not facing charges in the United States.
A few hours after the raid, Blatter was spotted by a Reuters
photographer at work inside an office in the FIFA headquarters, giving a
misleading impression of business as usual.
The OAG may have been spurred into action by the publication
on Sept. 11 by Swiss television of a 2005 contract between FIFA and the
Caribbean Football Union.
SFR, a Swiss TV channel, broadcast a page from the contract
which it said showed Blatter in 2005 awarded for a low price of $600,000
lucrative TV rights to the Caribbean Football Union (CFU), which was headed by
former FIFA vice-president Jack Warner. Warner, who was among several former
and current FIFA officials named in the U.S. indictment, transferred the rights
to his own company and then resold them in a deal worth between $15 million and
BLATTER LAWYERS SURPRISED - SOURCE
Until last week, all the charges against FIFA and soccer
marketing officials had come from the United States, which has expansive and
extraterritorial anti-racketeering laws.
But the Swiss authorities had made clear they were
investigating money laundering and "disloyal management" by persons
connected to FIFA, as well as possible irregularities in the 2018 and 2022
World Cup awards.
Lauber recently disclosed that his office now had collected
evidence of 121 suspicious bank accounts or transactions and 11 terabytes of
data, including data seized from the offices of both Blatter and FIFA
Secretary-General Jerome Valcke, who was placed on leave this month after
allegations of wrongdoing.
Blatter's legal team had tried just days earlier to calm the
waters over the Warner contract, and thought they had done so, according to a
source briefed on meetings in Zurich.
His personal lawyers had traveled to Zurich and met with
FIFA officials, who were conducting their own review of the contract, and went
over the relevant documents, the source said.
After the meeting, Blatter's lawyers came away confident
that the contract was carried out according to normal procedures, and so
Lauber's announcement took them by surprise, the source said.
Reuters acquired a letter on FIFA letterhead to the CFU
dated July 25, 2011, signed by Valcke, in which he canceled the contract that
Blatter signed with the CFU. The letter noted that FIFA had not received a
penny under a clause of the deal which allocated to it 50 percent of media and
Valcke's letter was sent out six years after the contract
was originally signed.
The Swiss attorney general's press release said that the CFU
contract deal is key to its criminal investigation. It said it showed that
Blatter signed a contract that was "unfavorable for FIFA," adding
there was a suspicion that Blatter "violated his fiduciary duties and
acted against the interest of FIFA."
A key question in the Swiss investigation is expected to be
why Blatter or FIFA staff did not cancel the contract sooner. Blatter's lawyers
say the CFU contract was properly prepared and negotiated by the appropriate
FIFA staff. A lawyer for Valcke decline to comment on reasons for the delay.
The OAG statement also said Blatter was suspected of a
"disloyal payment" of 2 million Swiss francs ($2.05 million) to
Michel Platini, the former French midfield soccer star who runs European soccer
Blatter's Swiss legal team will handle whatever emerges from
the OAG investigation. Blatter's lead Swiss lawyer Lorenz Erni is regarded as
one of the country's top defense counsels on financial crime cases, legal
Blatter has no obligation to make any statement, and can
invoke his rights similar to the Fifth Amendment under the U.S. Constitution
that protects against self-incrimination, said Peter Cosandey, a Zurich-based
lawyer and former district attorney who is not involved in FIFA-related cases.
"Now it is the initial phase, it is premature to give
any thoughts on the possible outcome," Cosandey said. "Of course it
depends on what evidence the prosecutors find and what other people are telling
While Blatter could face up to a five-year prison sentence
for the crimes mentioned by the OAG, Cosandey said he is unlikely to face jail
"In practice, the maximum penalty might not be more
than two years. If it is up to two years, you can get a prison term on
probation," he said. For
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