ZURICH (AP) FIFA sank deeper into a crisis on Friday that threatened to take down the two most powerful men in world football.
Sepp Blatter was interrogated by Switzerland’s Attorney General Michael Lauber, who opened a criminal case against the FIFA president over allege misuse of the governing body’s money.
Michel Platini was quizzed – only as a witness for now – about getting 2 million Swiss francs (about $2 million) from FIFA funds that Blatter approved in 2011 for work done at least nine years earlier.
Lauber suggests that was a ”disloyal payment.”
Once Blatter’s protege, UEFA President Platini positioned himself as a fresh start for FIFA and the presidential election favorite by cutting ties with his old mentor.
Lauber’s stunning arrival at FIFA’s door after an executive committee meeting on Friday linked the two together again. Here are some questions about the next steps for FIFA, Blatter and Platini:
WHAT IS BLATTER ACCUSED OF?
As FIFA president, his duty is to act in its best interests.
Blatter is suspected of criminal mismanagement and misappropriation of FIFA money.
Respectively, of awarding undervalued World Cup broadcasting rights to former vice president Jack Warner in 2005, and making a ”disloyal payment” to Platini in February 2011.
The former France great says he had a contract to receive the cash – for working as Blatter’s presidential adviser from between nine to 12 years earlier, Lauber’s office stated.
Is February 2011 significant? Maybe.
Then, Blatter was preparing for a presidential election fight against Mohamed bin Hammam of Qatar, and weeks later secured support from Platini’s UEFA members.
CAN BLATTER STAY ON?
FIFA and Blatter have survived, thrived even, through scandal-hit times since he became president 17 years ago. In 2005, a Swiss prosecutor came seeking evidence at FIFA headquarters in the ISL kickbacks case.
This time, Blatter is the subject of a criminal inquiry, which several now-banished officials in FIFA infamy never faced.
FIFA’s ethics committee can provisionally suspend Blatter, maybe on Monday.
Under those terms, Blatter could not set foot in FIFA or contact football colleagues. His position as president would be untenable.
Blatter could simply resign. With only five months left in office, it could seem a more dignified end after 40 years’ service to a FIFA he loves.
CAN PLATINI STILL BE A CANDIDATE?
Platini looked confident this week at the famous Baur au Lac hotel in Zurich.
He seemingly already had at least 100 of the 209 FIFA member votes already from Europe, Asia, South and North America.
Sure, Platini was tutored in FIFA politics by Blatter starting in the 1990s, but his reputation was untouched by claims of personal corruption.
That is at risk. Maybe FIFA’s ethics committee sees no wrongdoing, if Swiss prosecutors accept Platini’s explanation.
Still, in one month’s time, Platini must pass an integrity check if FIFA’s election oversight committee is to approve him as an official candidate.
And, with Platini now vulnerable, do more allegations now emerge?
DOES THE ELECTION GO AHEAD?
It surely happens on time on Feb. 26.
FIFA statutes and election rules demand a four-month campaign after the Oct. 26 deadline for contenders to apply.
Prince Ali bin al-Hussein was surely a big winner Friday.
The Jordanian prince won friends and 73 votes in losing to Blatter in May. He then distanced himself from former ally Platini, with comments about the old FIFA ways that now seem prophetic.
Still, there is a long way to go.
The uncertainty uncorked Friday left 32 days for new names to come forward. Power brokers aligned to Platini can forge new plans and alliances if they see his brand is tainted.
WHO COULD STEP UP?
If Blatter exits, his senior vice president becomes interim FIFA leader.
Issa Hayatou of Cameroon, the longtime Confederation of African Football president, was routed by Blatter in the 2002 election.
Hayatou was also reprimanded by the IOC in 2011 for taking small amounts of cash from ISL in the 1990s, and denied allegations published by British lawmakers of a promised million-dollar payment from Qatar’s 2022 World Cup bid.
FIFA has few upcoming duties for an interim to perform.
A Hayatou speech at the Ballon d’Or ceremony in Zurich on Jan. 11 has a curious attraction. He also would host the Feb. 26 election.
WHERE DO THE INVESTIGATIONS LEAD NOW?
Onwards with fresh momentum and public anticipation.
The U.S. case led by Attorney General Loretta Lynch made a stunning impact on FIFA on May 27 with early-morning arrests at a Zurich hotel and a sweeping 47-count indictment of racketeering and bribery.
Still, the Swiss case focusing on criminal mismanagement and money laundering seemed an equal threat to FIFA and Blatter with direct access into the heart of football’s world governing body.
Lauber’s team is sifting through massive amounts of data from FIFA’s archives and suspicious activity reports from banks in Switzerland.
The surgical strike Friday on two small contracts in FIFA’s business is likely just the start.