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Ex-FIFA boss’ case nears end

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Former FIFA president Sepp Blatter arrives to the Court of Arbitration for Sport for the appleal of Michel Platini’s against his six-year FIFA ban for ethics violations on April 29, 2016, in Lausanne, Switzerland. AFP

Ex-FIFA boss’ case nears end

Former world football chief Sepp Blatter on Monday met with a Swiss prosecutor investigating suspected fraud surrounding a FIFA payment to Michel Platini, as the long-running probe inches towards a conclusion.

Former FIFA president Blatter, 85, is being investigated over a two million Swiss franc ($2.2 million, 1.85 million euro) payment in 2011 to Platini, who was then in charge of European football’s governing body UEFA.

After the interview at the federal prosecutor’s office in Zurich, the city where FIFA has its headquarters, Blatter said he would return on Tuesday to resume the final hearing in the investigation.

“It is a normal audience. It’s the first part. The second part will be tomorrow,” he told journalists waiting outside.

“It was in a good spirit.”

Blatter, who was accompanied by his lawyer Lorenzo Erni, said he would spend the rest of the day resting and working. He smiled and waved as he was driven away.

The hearing with a federal prosecutor from the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) of Switzerland was postponed to August due to the retired Swiss football administrator’s health.

He spent two months in hospital in December and January after undergoing heart surgery, and in March was convalescing in a clinic.

Due to Blatter’s condition, he was only meant to spend around 90 minutes with the prosecutor on Monday. But he spent more than two and a half hours inside and said he would return on Tuesday.

‘Fraud, breach of trust’

Joseph “Sepp” Blatter joined FIFA in 1975, became its general secretary in 1981 and the president of world football’s governing body in 1998.

He was forced to stand down in 2015 and was originally banned by FIFA for eight years, later reduced to six, over ethics breaches when he authorised what prosecutors termed a “disloyal payment” to Platini – in other words, one made in his own interests rather than FIFA’s.

Blatter and Platini, 66, found themselves at the centre of a Swiss federal investigation.

“Specifically, the criminal proceedings against Joseph Blatter are now being conducted on suspicion of fraud, breach of trust and unfaithful business management,” the OAG said in a statement ahead of Monday’s hearing.

“The criminal proceedings against Michel Platini are being conducted on suspicion of fraud, participation in breach of trust, participation in unfaithful management and false documents.”

Under the Code of Criminal Procedure, in lengthy and complex proceedings, suspects “are questioned one last time before the investigation is concluded, and asked to comment on the results of the investigation”, the OAG added.

“Conducting final interviews does not allow any conclusions to be drawn about the outcome of criminal proceedings (discontinuation, penalty order or indictment).”

‘Late payment of wages’

While Blatter’s final hearings with the prosecutor were postponed to August, Platini’s took place in March.

Blatter’s spokesman Thomas Renggli told AFP that FIFA had a lawyer present at Monday’s meeting.

“It’s over for today, but it will continue tomorrow. Mr. Blatter is happy. He said it has gone well so far,” Renggli said. “He hopes the hearing ends tomorrow.”

In a statement ahead of the hearing, Blatter said he was going into the session with optimism.

He insisted the payment to former France and Juventus attacking midfielder Platini, considered among world football’s greatest-ever players, was above board.

“It was based on an oral contract that regulated Platini’s advisory activities for FIFA between 1998 and 2002,” he said.

“The process was correctly declared as a late payment of wages.”

The OAG said the presumption of innocence applied to all parties in the proceedings and it could not put a time frame on concluding the investigation.

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