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Blatter faces investigation, but Platini the one to watch

The ongoing drama that is Sepp Blatter’s tenure as the head of FIFA opened yet another chapter on Friday, as Swiss authorities made public their criminal proceedings against the FIFA president.

Following a FIFA executive committee meeting Friday afternoon, Blatter had scheduled a press conference. The conference, however, was abruptly canceled, because the Swiss police had picked up Blatter for interrogation following the committee meeting’s conclusion. Later in the day, after the police had interrogated the embattled FIFA president and seized information from his office at FIFA’s headquarters, Switzerland’s attorney general released a statement confirming that Joseph S. Blatter is the subject of an investigation into “criminal mismanagement and suspicion of misappropriation” of funds.

The Swiss case against Blatter is twofold. First, it involves a contract with the already indicted CONCACAF official Jack Warner, a contract assigning the 2010 and 2014 World Cup television rights to the Caribbean Football Union, and worth, ultimately, about $20 million. That Jack Warner is involved here is no surpirse. The FIFA executive from Trinidad and Tobago was among the 14 officials indicted by the U.S. Justice Department in May of this year, and is facing a dozen charges in the United States, including money laundering, wire fraud, and racketeering.

For anyone hoping to see meaningful reform coming from within FIFA’s ranks, the second name in Switzerland’s investigation will be more damning: Michel Platini.

According to Swiss authorities, Blatter is under suspicion of having doled out a “disloyal payment” to Michel Platini, a payment of two million Swiss francs, or slightly more than $2 million. The paper trail suggests that the payment was a bonus of sorts, to compensate Platini for his work with FIFA near the turn of the millennium, between January 1999 and June 2002. The payment, however, was not made until February of 2011, a decade after the work it was allegedly for—and three months before Sepp Blatter won his fourth election for FIFA’s presidency.

For those following FIFA’s ongoing corruption scandals, and those, like John Oliver, pleading and hoping for Blatter’s downfall, the Swiss attorney general’s publicized criminal proceedings are a welcome development.

Certainly, there is a degree of satisfaction to be garnered from the Swiss criminal investigation into Blatter’s dealings as FIFA president. Even back in May, when the indictment of top FIFA executives began in dramatic fashion, there was concern that Blatter would be untouchable. Whatever his culpability, Joseph S. Blatter is nonetheless an intelligent man, and we wondered if, perhaps, he had placed himself beyond the reach of indictment. Today, the hour to allay those fears is at hand.

But that does not make this an hour of celebration.

Until this afternoon (and, considering the entrenched culture of corruption within FIFA, sadly maybe still) Michel Platini was the leading candidate to replace Sepp Blatter as FIFA’s president.  What’s more, many—including FA Chairman Greg Dyke—believe Platini to be not only deeply committed to reforming FIFA, but also to have clean hands amid a cadre of corrupt executives.

Not so.

A spokesman for the UEFA president declined to comment on Friday, but the silence will need to be broken soon. It will be interesting to see how Platini chooses to deal with the situation; will it be outright denial of any involvement, or a solemn admission of wrongdoing and public recommitment to professional and organizational reform?

Don’t bank on the latter.

Unless Michel Platini’s involvement in what looks, walks, and quacks like a multimillion dollar bribe is disproved beyond any reasonable doubt, he cannot be the one to lead FIFA in Blatter’s wake. Well, at least if we are to believe FIFA are wholly committed to reforming the rampant corruption which has dogged their ranks, then he can’t.

And yet, despite this development, he still might run, and he still might win. In order to reestablish their credibility, FIFA need a leader who is entirely beyond reproach the day she or he takes office, someone who has not even a whiff of past involvement in corruption within soccer’s global governing body. Sadly, today we learned that Michel Platini is not that man.

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