Blatter remains defiant, insists he will stay as FIFA president

By Eric Bernaudeau ,AFP

LAUSANNE, Switzerland — FIFA’s embattled President Sepp Blatter insisted Monday that he will not stand down despite being the target of a Swiss criminal investigation for mismanagement. Michel Platini, the powerful head of the European UEFA confederation who has been implicated in the investigation, also defended a 2 million Swiss franc (US$2 million) payment from the world body. Blatter, 79, denied any “wrongdoing” in a meeting at FIFA headquarters. “President Blatter spoke to FIFA staff today and informed the staff that he was cooperating with the authorities, reiterated that he had done nothing illegal or improper and stated that he would remain as president of FIFA,” said the statement by his U.S.-based lawyer Richard Cullen.

Swiss prosecutors say Blatter is the target of a probe into “criminal mismanagement” at FIFA, focusing on a 2005 television rights sale to the Caribbean Football Union and the Platini payment.

French soccer legend Platini has been questioned by Swiss investigators, but has not been named as a suspect.

The inquiry sent fresh shocks through world soccer, which has descended deeper into crisis since May, when the U.S. justice department indicted 14 people over bribery in soccer deals worth more than US$150 million dating back to 1991.

Four days after winning a fifth term as president on May 30, Blatter dramatically announced that he would stand down when a new election is held in February. But media reports said FIFA’s independent ethics committee was about to launch an inquiry which could force the suspension of Blatter and Platini.

The Swiss attorney general, in announcing the new probe, said the two-million Swiss franc (US$2.05 million, 1.8 million euros) payment made in 2011 to Platini may have been illegal.

Platini defended the transaction on Monday, as the Frenchman hopes to separate himself from the stench surrounding FIFA while keeping his presidency bid on track.