World Cup votes sparked probes which downed Blatter, Platini
Dec. 22, 2015
LONDON (AP) — After five years of tumult, the far-reaching fallout from FIFA's decision to send the World Cup to Russia and Qatar has brought down another two voters — Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini — but not the hosts themselves.
No FIFA executive has been directly punished over how and why they voted in December 2010. And investigators have failed to unearth anything that warrants stripping Russia and Qatar of soccer's showpiece tournaments in 2018 and 2022 respectively.
But the vote had a big part to play in the eight-year bans handed out Monday to FIFA president Blatter and Platini, a FIFA vice president and head of European soccer's ruling body, UEFA.
The punishments given by FIFA's ethics committee stemmed from financial inquiries that were sparked by suspicions about the 2010 vote, when two host countries were selected concurrently for the first time.
For Blatter, Monday's verdicts also contained a bitter irony.
Blatter himself had initiated the phase in the investigation that ultimately led to him being exiled by FIFA's ethics judge from the organization he had run for 17 years.
Facing a fresh wave of pressure and suspicion around FIFA in November 2014, Blatter lodged a criminal complaint with Swiss authorities, authorizing them to receive the full secret World Cup bidding investigation he claims to have never seen.
"If we had anything to hide, we would hardly be taking this matter to the Office of the Attorney General ... (it) shows that FIFA is not opposed to transparency," Blatter said at the time with typical bravado.
It's a decision Blatter will be regretting, even if he had little control over a move requested by FIFA judge Hans-Joachim Eckert.
As federal prosecutors started to trawl through some 900 pages of FIFA evidence amassed by American attorney Michael Garcia they switched their focus to bank accounts linked to the 2010 voters.
In May, on the day Zurich police arrested FIFA officials on behalf of their American counterparts investigating soccer corruption, Swiss authorities also seized data from the governing body's headquarters across town. By that point, Swiss financial institutions had already handed over bank documents to the attorney general, who was building a case against FIFA officials.
As bank accounts were frozen, forensic software flagged up as suspicious a payment of 2 million Swiss francs ($2 million) Platini received from Blatter in early 2011.
"How they found out? This is not a secret because Swiss banks are obliged to notify the Swiss authorities for six years now since all these financial controls through a Swiss organization called FINMA," was Blatter's assessment on Monday about the discovery of the payment that remained a public secret until recently.
"They are obliged if they feel a payment is something high in a personal account they have to (inform). So in 2011, Michel Platini received in his personal account by FIFA this 2 million Swiss francs and then they have given this information to the Swiss authorities."
As an executive committee was concluding in September, prosecutors pounced on FIFA HQ and immediately questioned Blatter and Platini about the payment. Blatter was declared a suspect while Platini was considered "between a witness and an accused person."
The seriousness of the allegations meant FIFA had to suspend two of its most powerful officials — Platini serves as a vice president, alongside his UEFA presidency — as a full ethics investigation was conducted in parallel to the criminal case.
FIFA's ethics process concluded on Monday when Blatter and Platini received eight-year soccer bans for the payment. The judge described as "not convincing" their claim that the transaction was settling salary owed to the former France captain for work carried out as Blatter's adviser up to 2002.
As Blatter stepped up his fight against his humiliating removal from FIFA, the 79-year-old Swiss was left to rue how differently the last five years would have unfolded had the World Cup vote go his way.
According to Blatter: No Qatar; no investigations delving into FIFA.
Blatter's vision of delivering the 2018 World Cup to Russia for the first time was accepted by the now-tainted executive committee, but then — rather than going to a more familiar powerhouse in the United States as he wanted — the 2022 vote was astonishingly won by Qatar. Platini was among those who voted for the tiny desert nation.
"Can you imagine if this (Russia-U.S.) had worked out? We wouldn't be here today," Blatter said Monday as he digested being banned by the institution he helped to grow into a commercial giant. "But it didn't work for different reasons."
And the domino effect is not over. Being banished from soccer is the immediate humiliation, but Blatter and Platini could yet face criminal prosecutions with the attorney general in no hurry to rush the case.
Rob Harris can be followed at www.twitter.com/RobHarris and www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports