Former FIFA chief Blatter faces final hearing in Switzerland in payment probe

Sepp Blatter, the former world football chief, faces his final hearing with a Swiss prosecutor on Monday in a fraud probe surrounding a 2011 FIFA payment to Michel Platini.

Former FIFA chief Blatter faces final hearing in Switzerland in payment probe
Former president of World football's governing body FIFA, Sepp Blatter looks on as he arrived at the building of the Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland at a hearing with the Swiss prosecutor on September 1st, 2020 in Bern. Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

Former FIFA president Joseph “Sepp” Blatter, 85, said he was optimistic ahead of the hearing and hoped that the long-running saga would finally draw to an end.

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

Blatter is due to meet with a federal prosecutor from the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) of Switzerland.

The hearing in Zurich, where FIFA has its headquarters, is due to start at 9:00am (0700 GMT). Due to Blatter’s fragile health, it can only last for around 90 minutes, meaning it could reconvene on Tuesday.

The final hearing in the investigation was postponed to August due to the retired Swiss football administrator’s condition.

In March he was convalescing in a clinic after spending two months in hospital in December and January.

Questioned ‘one last time’
Blatter became FIFA’s general secretary in 1981 and the president of world football’s governing body in 1998.

Blatter 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 interests rather than FIFA’s.

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

“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.”

Platini’s final hearings with the prosecutor took place in March.

“The final interviews with Joseph Blatter in the same part of the proceedings had to be postponed to August 2021 for health reasons,” the OAG said.

Under the Code of Criminal Procedure, in lengthy and complex proceedings, “the accused 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’ 
Blatter is not expected to comment on his way in or out of the hearing, but issued a statement in advance.

“I look forward to the final hearing with optimism — and hope that this story will come to an end,” he said.

“After all, this case goes back to an event that happened 10 years ago.”

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

“Regarding the payment of the sum of two million francs from FIFA to Michel Platini, I can only repeat myself: It was based on an oral contract that regulated Platini’s advisory activities for FIFA between 1998 and 2002,” he said.

“The payment was delayed because FIFA was initially unable to pay out the entire amount — and Platini only made the claim in 2010.

“The process was correctly declared as a late payment of wages, the social insurance was accounted for accordingly and finally approved by all responsible FIFA bodies.”

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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Swiss woman indicted over ‘jihadist knife attack’ in department store

Swiss prosecutors said Wednesday they had indicted a woman for attempted murder on behalf of the Islamic State (IS) group over a brutal knife attack in November 2020.

Swiss woman indicted over 'jihadist knife attack' in department store

The 29-year-old unnamed woman allegedly attacked two women in a department store in the southern city of Lugano.

She has been charged with attempted murder and violating laws against association with Al-Qaeda, IS and related groups, according to the indictment.

She was also charged with unlawful prostitution.

EXPLAINED: Does Switzerland face a threat from terrorism?

The attorney general’s office said the indictment related to a “jihadist knife attack” and the alleged assailant, a Swiss citizen, “intended to kill her victims and to commit a terrorist act on behalf of IS.”

“The suspect acted wilfully and with particular ruthlessness. She brutally attacked her randomly-selected victims with a knife, with the aim of killing them and thereby spreading terror throughout the population on behalf of the ‘Islamic State’,” it said.

One of the two victims sustained serious neck injuries while the second victim, with help from others at the scene, managed to overpower her attacker and hold her until police arrived.

The attacker was arrested and detained. Police quickly discovered she had been linked to a 2017 jihadism investigation.

The woman had formed a relationship on social media with a jihadist fighter in Syria and attempted to travel to the war-torn country to meet him, police alleged at the time.

She was stopped by Turkish authorities at the Syrian border and sent back to Switzerland, they said, adding that the woman had suffered from mental health problems and been admitted to a psychiatric clinic.