Blatter's future hangs in the balance

Sepp Blatter (File)
Sepp Blatter (File)

Berlin - The fate of FIFA president Joseph Blatter hangs in the balance as his hearing in front of the world football governing body's ethics committee started Thursday while 50 Swiss bank accounts of current and former FIFA officials have been frozen.

The Tages-Anzeiger paper quoted the Swiss Federal Office of Justice (FOJ) as saying that a "high double-digit amount in the millions" has been frozen. The office has contacted 10 Swiss financial institutions at the request of the US investigators to request information.

However, a thorough investigation of the accounts could take several years. "These are extensive studies which can take a long time," a FOJ spokeswoman said Thursday.

The US Justice Department has accused a number of current or former FIFA officials of corruption relating to the marketing of international tournaments while there are separate investigations ongoing into the award of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar respectively.

Blatter and UEFA president Michel Platini, who has declined to be present when his case is heard in Zurich on Friday, await a final verdict in connection with a "disloyal payment" of $2 million Platini received in 2011 for FIFA work done between 1998 and 2002.

Both men were suspended by FIFA for 90 days on October 8 but protest their innocence and while admitting that there was no written contract they say they had a verbal agreement.

The pair face life bans from the game if the German judge Hans-Joachim Eckert, chairman of the ethics committee adjudicatory chamber, finds them guilty of corruption. Verdicts are expected Monday.

Blatter, who is to lay down his mandate as FIFA president at an extraordinary congress on February 26, was meanwhile named 'Swiss of the Year' by the Swiss conservative Weltwoche newspaper in its latest edition published on Thursday.

The paper hailed the "impressive achievements of this exceptional Swiss, who tours around the planet as a mixture of special envoy and aid worker."

It also praised the 79-year-old disregards as a "tireless and admirable football-fighter for a better world."

Blatter also received backing from Russian President Vladimir Putin who was giving his annual press conference in Moscow.

"Joseph Blatter is a very admirable person," Putin said. "He has done a lot for the development of world football. We should give him the Nobel peace prize."

Putin has suggested that the US investigation into FIFA could stem from the United States and close ally Britain being denied the right to host the World Cup in 2022 and 2018. He also said Russia won the right to host the 2018 competition in a completely honest competition.

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