Swiss prosecutors have opened a criminal investigation of Sepp Blatter, the head of world soccer body FIFA, on suspicion of criminal mismanagement and misappropriation, the Swiss attorney general's office said Friday.
Blatter was interrogated after a meeting of FIFA's executive committee in Zurich, and authorities carried out a search at FIFA headquarters on Friday.
U.S. and Swiss authorities announced in May that they were investigating corruption at the highest levels of the world's most popular sport, including in the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 world cups to Russia and Qatar.
Fourteen soccer officials and sports marketing executives were indicted at that time, but until Friday authorities had not pointed the finger at Blatter, the 79-year-old Swiss who has run FIFA since 1998.
Blatter has denied any wrongdoing.
FIFA Vice President Michel Platini was also questioned Friday as a witness over a “disloyal payment” of about $2 million he received from Blatter in February 2011, Swiss authorities said. Under Swiss law, a payment is classified disloyal if it is against the best interest of the employer — in this case FIFA.
Platini, who is the favorite to succeed the outgoing Blatter as FIFA president next February, was a personal adviser to his former mentor when he started out in football politics.
The payment by Blatter from FIFA funds was “allegedly made for work performed between January 1999 and June 2002,” the attorney general's office said.
Blatter was interrogated after chairing a meeting of FIFA's executive committee.
The 79-year-old Swiss had been set to hold a news conference for international media after the meeting, but it was first postponed and then canceled.
Blatter is the first person to be formally quizzed as a suspect in the Swiss case, which FIFA instigated last November when it complained about possible money laundering in the 2018-2022 World Cup bidding contests.
The allegations Friday also relate to World Cup broadcasting contracts Blatter agreed to with disgraced former FIFA vice president Jack Warner in 2005.
“There is as suspicion that, in the implementation of this agreement, Joseph Blatter also violated his fiduciary duties and acted against the interest of FIFA,” the Swiss federal office said.