Geneva, March 24
Sepp Blatter was banned for a second time by FIFA on Wednesday for financial wrongdoing, seven months before the 85-year-old former president’s first ban expires.
Blatter has recently been in poor health and was put in an induced coma for one week after undergoing heart surgery in December, at the time when FIFA was deciding his case.
FIFA said its ethics committee banned both Blatter and former secretary general Jérôme Valcke for six years and eight months for self-dealing in awarding themselves contractual bonuses worth millions of dollars, mostly linked to staging World Cups.
The charges against both men under the FIFA code of ethics included conflicts of interest, receiving gifts and breach of their duty of loyalty. Valcke was also charged with abuse of office.
Wednesday’s verdicts added to a slew of ongoing legal activity connecting the past and present leaderships of soccer’s governing body.
Both Blatter and Valcke, who also face criminal proceedings in Switzerland and deny wrongdoing, will start serving the new bans when their current ones expire.
Blatter and Valcke were previously banned for six years and 10 years, respectively, in separate cases. Blatter’s first ban expires in October and Valcke’s initial ban will be served in October 2025.
Both appealed against their first bans at the Court of Arbitration for Sport, and can also go to the Lausanne court to challenge the latest sanctions.
In the new case, both men were each fined 1 million Swiss francs ($1.07 million) and ordered to pay within 30 days. It is unclear what power FIFA has to enforce payment.
FIFA’s allegations of self-dealing in bonus payments led to former finance director Markus Kattner being banned for 10 years last year.
Lawyers acting for FIFA detailed the allegations in June 2016 against the former top officials. They spoke then of “a coordinated effort … to enrich themselves through annual salary increases, World Cup bonuses, and other incentives totaling more than 79 million Swiss francs (84.5 million).” The investigations against Blatter, Valcke and Kattner were opened in September 2016 when the ethics committee was run by officials appointed in 2012 and later ousted by current FIFA president Gianni Infantino.
Blatter’s lawyers argued last November the case should not proceed with officials appointed during Infantino’s presidency.
They said “all members of the FIFA Ethics Committee are institutionally biased and lack independence in relation to the FIFA Council and FIFA President.”
Decisions were taken by three ethics judges more than three months ago on Dec. 17, according to the verdicts published Wednesday.
Blatter, Valcke and Kattner are currently under investigation by Swiss federal prosecutors, while Infantino has been targeted by a special prosecutor asked by lawmakers to assess criminal complaints filed against former attorney general Michael Lauber.
FIFA filed a separate criminal complaint against Blatter last December before it was revealed he was in a hospital in Zurich. FIFA asked Zurich canton prosecutors to look at the financing of its soccer museum in the city — a pet project of Blatter that opened in 2016 after he was replaced by Infantino.
Blatter and Michel Platini, Infantino’s former boss at European soccer body UEFA, have been questioned several times by Swiss federal prosecutors in a criminal proceeding they face.
Both deny wrongdoing regarding $2 million in payments Blatter authorized to Platini in 2011 for work as an advisor a decade earlier. That allegation led to both being banned by the FIFA ethics committee in 2015.
FIFA has filed a civil action in Switzerland to try to recover the money from Platini.
Valcke was acquitted last October of charges of accepting bribes and criminal mismanagement while at FIFA. He was found guilty of a lesser charge of forging documents.
Swiss prosecutors have appealed against the verdicts of the federal criminal court, which also saw Qatari soccer and broadcasting executive Nasser al-Khelaifi acquitted of inciting Valcke to commit aggravated criminal mismanagement. AP