Fresh questions emerged Wednesday over a two-million dollar payment Michel Platini received from FIFA, as Swiss prosecutors confirmed that the former French star is more than just a witness in their criminal probe.
The powerful head of Europe’s UEFA confederation has insisted he did nothing wrong and will stay in the race to succeed Sepp Blatter at the top of world football’s sleaze-tainted governing body.
A Swiss investigation against Blatter, opened last week, is focused in part on a two million Swiss franc ($2 million/1.8 million euro) payment he made to Platini in 2011, apparently for consulting work done between 1998 and 2002.
Switzerland’s Attorney General Michael Lauber has said there is evidence that the payment was “disloyal” to FIFA’s interests.
Platini, 60, told AFP his compensation was delayed because of financial constraints at FIFA in 1998-2002. The state of the world body’s finances for the period are unclear however.
FIFA’s worst-ever crisis began in May when US prosecutors charged 14 football officials and sportsbusiness executives over involvement in more than $150 million of bribes.
With the scandal steadily widening, uncertainty has mounted over FIFA’s present and future leadership.
Blatter, 79, insists he will stay on until February when a special election is called to choose his successor.
Platini had been the favourite to win that vote, but some believe his implication in the Swiss probe will derail his candidacy.
And, rumours persist that FIFA’s ethics committee is set to open its own inquiry, which could lead to the suspension of both Blatter and Platini, still the two most powerful men in world football.
– Cash-strapped FIFA? –
In an interview with AFP on Tuesday, Platini said he worked as special advisor to Blatter from 1998 — when Blatter took charge of FIFA — until 2002.
“Mr Blatter informed me when I started my role as his advisor that it was not initially possible to pay the totality of my salary because of FIFA’s financial situation at that time,” Platini said.
According to a financial report published in April 2003 and available on FIFA’s website, world football’s governing body had a 115 million Swiss francs surplus at the close of the four-year cycle from 1999-2002.
But, in the same report, FIFA reported an expected loss of 134 million Swiss francs in May of 2002, when Platini finished his work as an advisor and joined FIFA’s executive committee.
Those losses were linked to a bankruptcy scandal that hit International Sports and Leisure (ISL), a Swiss media and marketing firm in partnership with FIFA through the late 1990s.
FIFA earns significant revenue from the World Cup, and so the upturn in its financial fortunes after May 2002 was likely linked to income from the tournament.
A source familiar with FIFA’s finances at the time, but who requested anonymity, said the organisation had enough money to pay Platini.
“The financial situation was strong enough to handle such a payment,” the source told AFP.
In the AFP interview, Platini said he “never doubted” he would be paid, and had “put the matter to the side for a while,” before requesting the balance of his compensation in 2011.
He said he is being targeted in “unfounded attacks”, which he expects will continue until FIFA’s next president is chosen.
– ‘Between witness and accused’ –
In a statement released on Monday, Platini said he had been interviewed by Swiss authorities “not as a person accused of any wrongdoing, but simply in my capacity as a person providing information.”
But speaking to reporters on Monday, Lauber said: “we didn’t audition Mr. Platini as a witness. That is not true. We investigated against him in between a witness and an accused persons.”
Lauber declined to say whether Platini’s explanations were satisfactory as that could “damage” the investigation.
FIFA’s ethics committee has said it typically launches inquiries against its officials once there is an “initial suspicion” — regardless of their rank. But it has so far remained silent on the case of Blatter and Platini.
South Korean tycoon Chung Mong-Joon, a rival candidate to Platini in the FIFA race, has called for a task force to run FIFA because of the “total meltdown” at the world body. – Agence France-Presse