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Blatter ‘available to defend FIFA’ at US corruption trial

Basel, Switzerland | AFP

Former FIFA president Sepp Blatter told AFP Friday he “is available” to appear as a witness at a United States trial into mass corruption in world football.

“Yes. When they need me to defend FIFA, I will be available,” Blatter said, when asked if he would be prepared to attend the trial into the sweeping bribery scandal that has sparked an unprecedented crisis at the top of the game.

US prosecutors were hoping the hearing of 39 officials and marketing executives accused of soliciting and receiving tens of millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks would begin in February 2017.

But on Thursday, the US judge overseeing the corruption scandal postponed setting a trial date until after prosecutors share the bulk of evidence being collated in the massive investigation.

Blatter, with suspended European football chief Michel Platini, was banned from all football activities for eight years in December over an infamous two million Swiss franc ($2 million, 1.8 million euro) payment Platini received in 2011 from the then-FIFA president.

The suspensions were cut to six years in February.

Blatter, since replaced as FIFA president by Gianni Infantino, is awaiting a date for an appeal against his ban to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).

Platini was told earlier Friday his CAS appeal will be heard on April 29.

Blatter, attending a debate on FIFA reforms at Basel University, commented: “It’s good news that CAS has made progress with Platini’s case. I think my case will be handled shortly after.”

The 80-year-old Swiss added: “I believe that now, finally, at CAS, they are going to talk about justice, and not just speculation.

“That means it’s justice that will prove if the accused is guilty and not the accused who has to prove his innocence.”

He says his appeal is based on the principle that “the Blatters pay their debts”.

He explained: “There was a contract between the FIFA president and Platini, an oral contract and then indeed a written one.

“And so I paid the debt, generally when you pay a debt you are thanked. But in this case because I paid the debt I’m punished.

“According to the principles instilled in me by my father who for me was a paragon of virtue, ‘ we, Blatters, pay our debts’.

“And that’s also the principle that we adhere to at FIFA.”

He made clear that should CAS reject his appeal, he will not give up trying to clear his name.

“There are other ways to get the ban lifted,” he suggested, saying he could take his case to Swiss justice, or take out a civil action.

“But for me I’m confident CAS will overturn the decision,” he stated.

Irrespective of the outcome of his CAS hearing, Blatter plans to attend the 2018 World Cup finals in Russia as a guest of Russian President Vladimir Putin, although if he were to attend a match he would be flouting the terms of his suspension.

“I’ve got an invitation to go to Russia,” he said.

“I will go Russia. Going to Russia doesn’t mean that I’m going to watch games. They can’t stop me travelling. I go where I want to.”

He refused to pass comment on his successor Infantino’s performance since taking over the top job in football in February.

“I don’t have a verdict. I don’t even know his programme and I’m letting him get on with it.”

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