ZURICH (Reuters) - FIFA president Sepp Blatter and the man who aims to replace him, UEFA chief Michel Platini, both insisted on Monday there was nothing untoward about a 2 million Swiss franc payment at the center of fresh corruption allegations.
Swiss prosecutors said on Friday they had opened a criminal investigation into Blatter, the long-time head of FIFA, world soccer’s governing body, on suspicion of criminal mismanagement and misappropriation of funds.
Blatter denies any wrongdoing and on Monday told FIFA staff that he has no intention of quitting as a result of the investigation.
The prosecutors said Blatter was suspected of a “disloyal payment” of 2 million Swiss francs ($2.05 million) to Platini in 2011 at the expense of FIFA, allegedly made for work performed between January 1999 and June 2002. They did not say why the payment was “disloyal” or what became of the money.
Both leaders said on Monday the payment was legitimate compensation for work done but neither offered an explanation for why Platini was not paid until nine years after finishing his spell as a paid advisor to Blatter.
“I wish to clarify that for the period 1998 to 2002, I was employed by FIFA to work on a wide range of matters relating to football,” wrote Platini in a letter to European national football associations.
”It was a full-time job and my functions were known by all. The remuneration was agreed at the time and after initial payments were made, the final outstanding amount of 2 million Swiss francs was paid in February of 2011.
“This income has all been fully declared by me to the authorities, in accordance with Swiss law,” he added.
An emailed statement from Blatter’s personal lawyers, Lorenz Erni of Switzerland and Richard Cullen of the United States, supported Platini’s stance.
They said Blatter had “explained to the prosecutors that the payments were valid compensation and nothing more and were properly accounted for within FIFA, including the withholding of Social Security contributions”.
Friday’s allegations marked the first time that authorities investigating corruption in the world’s most popular sport had pointed the finger directly at Blatter, the 79-year-old Swiss who has run its powerful governing body for the past 17 years.
Blatter held a meeting with FIFA staff at the organization’s headquarters in the hills above Zurich on Monday afternoon and told them he was not going to quit because of the investigation.
“President Blatter spoke to FIFA staff today and informed the staff that he was cooperating with the authorities, reiterated that he had done nothing illegal or improper and stated that he would remain as president of FIFA,” said the statement.
Blatter is due to stand down following the election of a new FIFA president at a special congress on Feb. 26.
Platini, a former French international player who heads Europe’s football federation UEFA, was the early favorite to win that vote. But although he was only interviewed as a witness in the case, his chances have been thrown into doubt by the reference to the payment by Swiss prosecutors.
Both men could face a separate probe by FIFA’s Ethics Committee which has the power to investigate allegations against officials within the governing body.
Platini said he was ready to provide answers to any questions the ethics investigators might have.
“I have today written to the Ethics Committee of FIFA to request that I may come forward and provide whatever additional information may be needed in order to clear this matter up,” said Platini in his letter.
($1 = 0.9734 Swiss francs)
Additional reporting by David Ingram in New York; Writing by Simon Evans in Zurich; Editing by Catherine Evans