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As Platini faces prosecuters, FIFA’s legal woes pile up

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Former UEFA head Michel Platini (left) arrives with his lawyer Dominic Nellen at the building of the Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland on August 31. AFP

As Platini faces prosecuters, FIFA’s legal woes pile up

Michel Platini will face Swiss prosecutors on three consecutive days next week as he answers questions in two of the raft of cases that still beset global football and its leaders, past and present.

Platini is due to be interrogated in Bern on March 15-16 over the corruption case that shattered his dream of taking over world football’s governing body FIFA after the fall of Sepp Blatter.

On March 17, he is expected in Sarnen, 80km to the east, but this time as a witness in an investigation into the actions of the man who instead took over FIFA, Gianni Infantino.

These are only two of the proceedings involving FIFA.

Here AFP rounds up the legal state of play.

The case of the two presidents

When Blatter fell as head of FIFA in 2015 he quickly took his would-be successor and the head of European governing body, Platini with him.

FIFA banned both men from football at the end of 2015. The accusation against Platini revolves around a payment of two million Swiss francs ($2.2 million) from FIFA authorised by Blatter in 2011.

Swiss prosecutors responded by opening an investigation of the two men on accusations of “disloyal management”, “breach of trust” and “fraud”.

As Platini’s final hearing approaches on March 15-16 in Bern, he and Blatter insist that, even though there was no written contract, the payment, made just before Platini opted not to challenge Blatter in the 2011 FIFA election, was for consultancy work dating back to 1999-2002.

Platini insists the affair was a “plot” to block him from the FIFA presidency, which went instead to his former UEFA number two, Infantino.

Platini counter-attacked at the end of 2018 by filing a complaint in the courts accusing unnamed enemies of “slanderous denunciation” and “criminal association”.

Infantino vs the prosecutor

The boot will be on the other foot on March 17 when Platini appears as a witness in a Swiss investigation into Infantino.

Elected in 2016 promising to “restore the image of FIFA”, Infantino last year became the target of a criminal procedure for “incitement to abuse authority”, “violation of official secrecy” and “obstruction of criminal proceedings” over three secret meetings in 2016 and 2017 with Michael Lauber, then head of the Swiss Federal Prosecutor’s Office (MPC).

Those meetings fuelled suspicions of collusion over cases that involved FIFA.

Infantino says he wanted to show the MPC “that the new FIFA was a world away from the old one”, which had been led astray “by corrupt officials”.

The Swiss prosecutor in the case has also said he is curious about a private jet flight Infantino took in 2017 that was paid for by FIFA.

The case of the Qatari World Cup

The most embarrassing investigation for FIFA, because of the shadow it casts over its flagship competition, concerns the award of the 2022 World Cup and also involves Platini.

The vote in December 2010 to make Qatar the hosts has been the subject of investigations by FIFA and both the Swiss and French justice systems.

Swiss prosecutors have been investigating “money laundering and unfair management” since May 2015. The French justice system is looking into “active and passive corruption” in relation to a lunch held in November 2010 hosted by then French president Nicolas Sarkozy whose guests included two senior Qatari executives and Platini, who as UEFA president was one of the FIFA voters.

The 2018 World Cup in Russia, awarded in the same vote, and the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, awarded in 2004, are also tainted by suspicions of corruption.

Switzerland in April had to drop an investigation over the awarding of the 2006 World Cup to Germany, due to the statute of limitations.

The case of the TV bribes

In addition to being a major source of revenue for FIFA, television rights are also turning into its main source of legal problems, starting with the seven arrests in Zurich on the eve of the 2015 presidential election.

“Fifagate” was primarily concerned with the sale of continental TV rights by football officials in the Americas, who were also FIFA committee members, in cases where US prosecutors could claim jurisdiction.

US courts have sentenced Paraguayan Juan Angel Napout to nine years in prison and Brazilian Jose Maria Marin to four years. Cayman Islander Jeffrey Webb, a former head of the North and Central America and Caribbean confederation, has pleaded guilty and agreed to pay $6.7 million. He is awaiting sentencing.

Meanwhile, Swiss prosecutors said in February they are appealing the acquittal in October of Nasser Al-Khelaifi, the Paris Saint-Germain president and broadcasting group beIN Media chief, over the allocation by FIFA North African and Middle Eastern TV rights for the 2026 and 2030 World Cups.

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