Internal FIFA probe of Blatter finds ‘scant evidence’

Committee found no evidence of corruption over a $2 million payment to European soccer head Michel Platini

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An internal investigation of suspended FIFA President Joseph “Sepp” Blatter has found no evidence of corruption over a 2 million Swiss franc ($2 million) payment to European soccer head Michel Platini, the Swiss newspaper Handelszeitung said on Wednesday.

Reuters could not independently verify the report, which said Blatter also faced suspicions of ethics violations given that the payment had failed to appear in FIFA accounts for some time. FIFA referred Reuters’ questions to its independent ethics committee, which said it did not comment on “rumors”.

The ethics committee, due to rule on the case by year’s end, has taken a hard line so far in corruption cases.

Both men were suspended in October amid a wider graft scandal that has triggered criminal investigations in the United States and Switzerland and cast soccer’s global governing body into turmoil. They deny wrongdoing and have not been charged.

Investigators have raised questions about the payment in 2011 from FIFA to Platini, a former France team captain and coach who has been president of European soccer body UEFA since 2002, for work he did between 1998 and 2002. Blatter had been seeking re-election in 2011.

Blatter has said there was a verbal agreement between the two while Platini says the payment was delayed only because of financial problems at FIFA.

Citing an unnamed source, Handelszeitung said the internal inquiry had been unable to substantiate bribery suspicions.
“Tangible and legally admissible evidence for the allegation of corruption can be found nowhere in the entire investigative report,” it quoted the source as saying.

The paper said Platini had asked FIFA for his overdue salary at least twice in 2010 and that FIFA’s finance chief had set aside money for the payment.

FIFA will hold an election in February to replace Blatter. Platini, once a front runner for the post, cannot run while he is banned although he might be allowed to take part if he is cleared.

The FIFA corruption scandal broke in May, when seven officials were arrested in police raids on a Zurich hotel ahead of a meeting of the soccer body. Fourteen officials, including two former vice presidents, were indicted in the United States then on suspicion of corruption and money laundering.

Sixteen more U.S. indictments were unveiled last week.

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