LAUSANNE, March 9 -French authorities have seized documents from the country’s football federation in connection with a Swiss probe into the suspect payment former FIFA president Sepp Blatter made to Michel Platini, officials said Wednesday.
The search was conducted Tuesday — two days before Blatter’s 80th birthday — with Swiss officials present while French investigators searched the French Football Federation (FFF) headquarters in Paris.
The office of Switzerland’s attorney general said the search was carried out “in connection with the criminal proceedings against Mr. Joseph Blatter”, which were opened in September.
Switzerland suspects Blatter of “criminal mismanagement” while leading FIFA and authorising a 2011 payment to Platini — the fallen head of European football — that was “disloyal” to FIFA.
Documents in connection with that infamous 2.0 million Swiss franc ($2.0 million, 1.8 million euros) payment to Platini, a French national, “were seized” from the FFF offices, the Swiss statement said.
Blatter told AFP he was “very surprised” to learn of the search because he did not believe the FFF ever had documents related to the payment, which both Blatter and Platini claim was part of a legitimate oral contract.
Switzerland said it formally asked France for cooperation in the investigation on January 14.
In a separate statement, the French justice ministry confirmed the Tuesday search and said it “enabled the seizure of documents useful to the investigation” into the payment.
– Platini’s status –
The doubts surrounding the infamous funds led FIFA to ban both Blatter and Platini from football for six years.
In the Swiss case, Platini has been questioned with a status that falls between that of a witness and an accused.
“Mr. Michel Platini’s status in the proceedings has remained unchanged,” the Swiss statement said.
Between 1999 and 2002, Platini worked for FIFA out of offices rented by FFF in Paris.
The clouds surrounding the payment centre on why Blatter paid Platini for this work a decade after it was completed.
Both men have said the payment was deferred to ease financial pressure FIFA faced around the turn of the century.
There has also been unproven speculation that Blatter sent the money after Platini backed his re-election as FIFA’s president.
Platini’s lawyers said in a statement that they were pleased with “this new step” as it brought their client closer to being exonerated.
“The sooner Swiss justice authorities finish their investigation the sooner Michel Platini will be out of the tabloids where he doesn’t belong,” his lawyers said.
Blatter told AFP the documents at the FFF office may have pertained to two of Platini’s former colleagues, Odile Lanceau and Alain Leiblang.
Both worked with Platini as FIFA consultants, but their contracts were agreed between FIFA and the FFF, according to Blatter.
– Blatter will still celebrate –
Blatter was replaced as FIFA’s president on February 26 by Gianni Infantino, also a Swiss national born, like Blatter, in the Canton of Valais.
Infantino has vowed to turn the page on the crisis engulfing FIFA, which erupted last May when Swiss police, upon request from US authorities, arrested seven FIFA officials at a luxury Zurich hotel.
The US justice department has since charged 39 people within world football and two companies over graft going back decades.
Switzerland, aside from probing Blatter, is investigating possible corruption during the bidding for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, won by Russia and Qatar.
Blatter is due to celebrate his 80th birthday on Thursday evening with around 100 friends and family at a Zurich hotel.
“I don’t think that the Swiss prosecutors office considered that it was the day before my birthday,” he said, adding that news of the search would not spoil his celebrations.
“I don’t see how this could ruin this lovely day.”