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[SIZE=6]Sepp Blatter and Other Top Officials Are Suspended, Deepening FIFA’s Turmoil[/SIZE]
By SAM BORDENOCT. 8, 2015
Sepp Blatter leaving FIFA headquarters Thursday in Zurich. Blatter, FIFA’s president, and two others were suspended for 90 days. CreditDominic Steinmann/European Pressphoto Agency
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The leadership of world soccer’s governing body plunged into chaos on Thursday as three of the game’s most powerful figures, including Sepp Blatter, the longtime president of FIFA, were suspended amid a corruption investigation by the Swiss authorities.
In addition to Mr. Blatter, Michel Platini, who is a FIFA vice president and the head of European soccer’s governing body, and Jérôme Valcke, FIFA’s secretary general, who was already on disciplinary leave, were “provisionally banned” from the sport for 90 days by FIFA’s independent ethics committee.
By Thursday evening, Mr. Blatter, who has led FIFA since 1998 and worked at the organization since 1975, had been driven away from the organization’s headquarters in Zurich — perhaps for the last time — having filed an official appeal against what he contended was brusque, and unfair, treatment.
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[li][SIZE=5][B]Times Topic: International Federation of Association Football (FIFA)[/B][/SIZE][/li][li]http://static01.nyt.com/images/2015/10/09/sports/09MACURweb1/09MACURweb1-thumbStandard.jpg[/li]
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The New York Times obtained a copy of the appeal, which one of Mr. Blatter’s lawyers, Lorenz Erni, sent by letter to Hans-Joachim Eckert, the German judge who leads the adjudicatory chamber of the ethics committee.
Sepp Blatter, right, with Michel Platini, the UEFA president, in Zurich in May.CreditFabrice Coffrini/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
In the letter, Mr. Blatter’s legal team demands the opportunity to see the case file the ethics committee reviewed during its proceedings — a request that reflected a belief that the ethics committee’s decision was based almost entirely on the fact that the Swiss attorney general’s office recently opened an investigation into Mr. Blatter. Assuming a presumption of innocence, Mr. Blatter’s lawyers argue, it is premature to impose any kind of suspension, especially if the investigation is subsequently dropped for lack of evidence.
The letter also demands a hearing that would allow Mr. Blatter and his lawyers to argue the merits of their case in full; before the suspension was announced, Mr. Blatter was allowed to defend himself only in a short interview with investigators.
Additionally, the appeal notes — with some disgust — the treatment Mr. Blatter received, pointing out that he learned of the decision to suspend him only after FIFA had announced it publicly. According to a person with knowledge of the events, Mr. Blatter read the decision of the ethics committee on his office computer.
The suspensions took effect immediately, though Mr. Platini challenged his ban, and the governing body for Europe, UEFA, released a statement implying that it would not enforce it. A person with knowledge of the situation said Mr. Platini was expected to follow a path similar to Mr. Blatter’s with regard to his appeal.
A fourth executive, the former FIFA vice president Chung Mong-joon, was barred from the sport for six years on Thursday and fined 100,000 Swiss francs, or about $103,000. Mr. Chung, a South Korean billionaire whose family heads the Hyundai conglomerate, had, like Mr. Platini, been a candidate to replace Mr. Blatter in a February special election. But he was found to have violated FIFA’s ethics code in connection with the bidding processes for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, FIFA said.
Mr. Platini, who had been seen as the favorite to replace Mr. Blatter, filed paperwork Thursday morning to officially become a candidate for president, but it was unclear whether he would be permitted to run.
The suspensions for Mr. Blatter, Mr. Platini and Mr. Valcke can be renewed for an additional 45 days after the initial 90, and it was believed that they would require a complete separation from FIFA. In a statement, FIFA said Mr. Blatter “is not allowed to represent FIFA in any capacity, act on the organization’s behalf, or communicate to media or other stakeholders as a FIFA representative.” According to a person close to Mr. Blatter, he may dispute whether that prohibits him from going to his office each day. The title of FIFA president was quietly removed from his Twitter account.
Mr. Platini pushed back too, releasing a statement through UEFA, in apparent violation of his suspension hours earlier from “all football activities on a national and international level.” In the statement, he dismissed the allegations against him as “astonishingly vague” and the process that led to his ban as “farcical.”
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[SIZE=5]The Rise and Fall of Sepp Blatter[/SIZE]
Scandal and accusations have dotted the FIFA reign of Sepp Blatter.
“I am driven by a profound feeling of staunch defiance,” he said. “I am more determined than ever to defend myself before the relevant judicial bodies.”
UEFA’s executive committee also defied the FIFA suspension, announcing in its own statement that it would not invoke rules of succession in its leadership — effectively leaving Mr. Platini in place as UEFA president. It later clarified that Mr. Platini would not perform his official duties or attend meetings, but it did not name an acting president.
Still, the suspensions leave FIFA, as well as UEFA, in disarray. David Gill and Wolfgang Niersbach, two members of FIFA’s powerful executive committee, called for an emergency meeting as soon as possible. All 54 member associations of UEFA were also expected to have their own hasty summit, as soon as next week.
FIFA will now be run by an interim president, Issa Hayatou, who is the Cameroonian leader of African soccer’s governing body and the most senior FIFA vice president. Mr. Hayatou was reprimanded in 2011 by the International Olympic Committee’s ethics commission after he admitted to receiving payments from a marketing company, which was, in the commission’s view, a conflict of interest.
Mr. Hayatou said that “extraordinary circumstances” led to his elevation in power and promised that he would not seek the FIFA presidency permanently in February. “I myself will not be a candidate for that position,” he said.
If UEFA removed Mr. Platini, even temporarily, it would be led by Ángel María Villar of Spain, who is facing pressing issues of his own: Mr. Villar is believed to be facing an inquiry by FIFA’s ethics committee over allegations that he was not forthcoming during a previous investigation into allegations of corruption in the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bidding processes.
“Football, not just FIFA, stands on the precipice of disaster,” Chris Eaton, the executive director of the International Center for Sport Security, said in a statement. Mr. Eaton and his organization renewed the call for an independent body to take over the governance of international groups that oversee sports, like FIFA.
Thomas Bach, the president of the International Olympic Committee, called for FIFA to allow an “external” candidate, from outside its traditional base, to run for the presidency.
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“Enough is enough,” Mr. Bach said. “We hope that now, finally, everyone at FIFA has at last understood that they cannot continue to remain passive.”
Mr. Blatter had for years largely avoided any direct effect from the various scandals that have enveloped top soccer officials during his tenure. This spring, however, 14 soccer and marketing officials were arrested in connection with investigations by Swiss and United States authorities. Several were arrested as they gathered in Zurich for FIFA’s annual congress, on charges that included racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering, and a few have been extradited to the United States.
Mr. Blatter was not among those charged in the American indictments. But less than a week later, he announced — only days after winning a fifth term as president — that he would voluntarily relinquish his position. He called for a special election to choose his successor, and it was later scheduled for February. Mr. Blatter said then that while he had not done anything wrong personally, it was clear that FIFA needed immediate reform.
Late last month, however, officials from the office of Switzerland’s attorney general surprised Mr. Blatter at FIFA’s headquarters, seizing documents from his office and questioning him about two transactions that they were investigating. The first was a 2005 agreement for World Cup television rights that FIFA — with Mr. Blatter leading — sold to Jack Warner, the former president of Concacaf, for a price seen as well below market value. Mr. Warner later resold the rights at a significant profit.
The second transaction was a payment of two million Swiss francs that Mr. Platini received in 2011. Mr. Platini has claimed the payment was for work he performed for Mr. Blatter nine years earlier. Mr. Platini, Swiss prosecutors said, was “in between” a witness and an accused person.
Mr. Platini has vehemently denied any wrongdoing and, earlier Thursday, pre-emptively released the statement saying that he still intended to run for FIFA’s presidency, despite what he termed an effort to “smear” his campaign.
In recent days, Mr. Blatter has rejected calls from major sponsors demanding that he step down. This week, the German magazine Bunte printed an interview with him in which he labeled the Swiss investigation “outrageous.”
Mr. Valcke, who was Mr. Blatter’s longtime deputy, has also denied wrongdoing, and his lawyer released a statement Thursday saying that “Jérôme Valcke has unequivocally denied the false allegation made against him.”
“He is confident that when all the facts come out, it will be clear that he did absolutely nothing wrong or improper in carrying out his duties for the good of FIFA and the sport,” the statement said.
It was not immediately clear how Thursday’s suspensions would affect the special presidential election. Prince Ali bin al-Hussein of Jordan, who lost to Mr. Blatter in May’s election, has declared his intention to run again. Shortly after Mr. Platini’s suspension was announced, he replaced Mr. Platini as the odds-on favorite to be the next president by several British bookmakers.