News FIFA targets former president Sepp Blatter in criminal complaint over museum

FIFA targets former president Sepp Blatter in criminal complaint over museum

Sepp Blatter, pictured in 2011, is in strife for dealings over the FIFA museum. He denies the charges. Photo: Reuters
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FIFA has filed a criminal complaint with Zurich’s cantonal prosecutor, claiming evidence of “criminal mismanagement” of a museum project set up by former president Sepp Blatter.

FIFA said its complaint “identified the direct involvement of former FIFA president Joseph S Blatter together with other persons” in the agreements made for the central Zurich museum.

The FIFA World Football Museum opened in 2016 after $140 million of soccer money was spent refurbishing the 1970s office building to also include 34 rental apartments.

It was intended to open around May 2015, when Blatter won a fifth presidential election, but was delayed until after he left office under pressure from American and Swiss investigations of international soccer officials.

The FIFA World Football Museum in Zurich, Switzerland in February 2016 before its official opening. Photo: PA

Blatter committed FIFA to a rental contract with the building’s owner, insurance firm Swiss Life, that requires paying $360 million through to 2045 at above-market rates, soccer’s world body said.

“That is half a billion Swiss Francs that could and should have been channelled into the development of global football.”

Lorenz Erni, Blatter’s lawyer, said in response: “The accusations are baseless and are vehemently repudiated”.

Blatter, who was FIFA president for 17 years, was suspended and later banned by the soccer body’s ethics committee after he became the subject of criminal proceedings in Switzerland in 2015.

FIFA deputy secretary General Alasdair Bell said a ‘forensic audit’ had been undertaken into the project.

“That audit revealed a wide range of suspicious circumstances and management failures, some of which may be criminal in nature and which therefore need to be properly investigated by the relevant authorities,” Mr Bell said in the statement.

FIFA said it also plans to submit all relevant documentation to its ethics committee.

The complaint is the latest in a series of legal issues surrounding FIFA.

Current FIFA president Gianni Infantino is himself facing criminal proceedings by a special prosecutor looking into dealings the Swiss official had with former Swiss Attorney-General Michael Lauber.

Mr Infantino and Mr Lauber have denied any wrongdoing.

After the announcement of those proceedings, Blatter called for Mr Infantino to be suspended.

Earlier this month, special prosecutor Stefan Keller said he had asked Swiss authorities to investigate Mr Infantino’s use of private air travel.

“FIFA and its president will obviously take all necessary legal steps and remedies to put an end to these baseless and ill-intentioned accusation,” the organisation said in response to Keller.