FIFA's longtime president Sepp Blatter was suspended for 90 days on Thursday, as Swiss authorities investigate him amid a widening corruption scandal. Blatter will appeal.
Blatter's suspension by the world football body's independent ethics committee all but ends the Swiss national's long and tightfisted reign over world football's governing body.
Acting in the wake of Swiss prosecutors announcing they are examining Blatter on suspicion of corruption, the ethics committee also handed a 90-day suspension to Blatter's possible successor, UEFA chief Michael Platini, and to FIFA's secretary general, Jerome Valcke, who had already been put on leave.
The suspensions take effect immediately and the ethics committee said that "the duration of the bans may be extended for an additional period not exceeding 45 days".
Both Blatter and Platini maintain their innocence.
"President Blatter looks forward to the opportunity to present evidence that will demonstrate that he did not engage in any misconduct, criminal or otherwise," Blatter's lawyer, Richard Cullen, said in a statement released Friday morning.
Platini also pledged to fight the decision, calling the allegations against him "astonishingly vague" in a statement sent from UEFA hours after the Frenchman was banned from working as the body's president.
The ethics committee also banned FIFA vice president Chung Mong-joon for six years, and fined him CHF100,000 ($103,000).
"During this time, the above individuals are banned from all football activities on a national and international level," FIFA's ethics committee said in a statement on Thursday. "The grounds for these decisions are the investigations that are being carried out by the investigatory chamber of the ethics committee."
A new interim leader
FIFA says African football leader Issa Hayatou will serve as acting president. On Thursday Hayatou said he would not stand for election on February 26.
"I will serve only on an interim basis," he said in an emailed statement. "FIFA remains committed to the reform process, which is critical to reclaiming public trust. We will also continue to cooperate fully with authorities and follow the internal investigation wherever it leads."
"Football has never enjoyed greater support throughout the world, and that is something everyone associated with FIFA should be proud of," he added.
The news follows an announcement by the Swiss Attorney General on September 25 that it was investigating Blatter personally on suspicion of “criminal mismanagement” and “misappropriation” of funds.
Swiss prosecutors are looking into a contract signed with a former head of the Caribbean Football Union Jack Warner for World Cup television rights. They also are examining an alleged CHF2 million “disloyal payment” by Blatter in 2011 to the head of European football’s governing body UEFA, Michel Platini. Blatter and Platini have both denied any wrongdoing.
More broadly, the Swiss authorities are investigating suspected FIFA irregularities over the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar. Several FIFA officials have been arrested and the Swiss raided FIFA headquarters in May and September.
Blatter's embattled reign
Blatter was re-elected for a fifth term in May even though some of his FIFA allies had been indicted just days earlier in a US investigation into bribery and fraud in football.
But four days later, he shocked the football world by announcing that he planned to step down. Since then FIFA has been trying to regain the confidence of sceptics by pushing through reforms to its self-governance.
Blatter still could return to the helm of FIFA in January, just ahead of the emergency election he called for February 26 to pick his successor.
Blatter, who has held the presidency of world football’s governing body since 1998, has in recent days told staff at FIFA’s Zurich headquarters that he has done nothing wrong.
Some of FIFA’s sponsors aren’t so sure. McDonald's, Coca-Cola, Visa and Budweiser brewer Anheuser-Busch called for Blatter to quit last Friday but the president rebuffed those demands. He allegedly still has support from Adidas, Gazprom, Hyundai and Kia.
Prior to the recent turmoil, Platini had been considered the favourite to succeed Blatter in the emergency election prompted by the president's decision in June to quit. On Thursday Platini said he planned to still run for the top spot at FIFA and had submitted the necessary letters of support in order to stand as a president candidate.
UEFA defied FIFA's suspension of Platini on Thursday when it said he would not be replaced as head of European football's governing body and gave him its backing in the appeal process.
Valcke, Blatter’s right-hand man for the past eight years, was already suspended last month by FIFA after allegations he was involved in a scheme to sell 2014 World Cup tickets at a marked-up price. Valcke denied the charges.
swissinfo.ch with agencies