Sepp Blatter: FIFA files criminal complaint against former president over museum

FIFA has filed a criminal complaint against its former president Sepp Blatter over the finances of its loss-making football museum in Zurich.

World football’s governing body said on Tuesday it suspected criminal mismanagement by FIFA’s former bosses and companies appointed by them to work on the museum – long seen as a pet project of Blatter’s – in a renovated and rented city centre building.

The FIFA World Football Museum opened in 2016 after $140m (£104.2m) of football 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 football officials.

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Blatter committed FIFA to a rental contract with the building’s owner, insurance firm Swiss Life, that requires paying $360m (£267.8m) through 2045 at above market rates, football’s world body said.

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A statement by FIFA read: “Following a detailed review of historic facts and circumstances concerning the construction and on-going operational costs of the FIFA Museum, FIFA has become aware of many serious irregularities regarding this project, which raise strong suspicions of criminal misconduct on the part of various different officials and companies associated with the matter.

“As a result, FIFA is now duty-bound to refer the matter to the Zurich prosecutor’s office for further investigation and, if necessary, prosecution.

“The criminal complaint filed by FIFA is directed against various members of the former FIFA management, including former president Joseph Blatter, as well as further ‘unknown’ potential suspects.

“It is suspected that these individuals may have been involved in various acts of criminal mismanagement, and possibly other related offences.”

The documents filed by FIFA state that their former management “repeatedly misled different FIFA bodies as to the cost and viability of the project”, including the existence of alternative sites. It also alleges “grave conflicts of interest” and “suspected nepotism” in relation to the project.

FIFA said its criminal complaint was delivered by hand to prosecutors in Zurich. Lorenz Erni, Blatter’s lawyer, said in response: “The accusations are baseless and are vehemently repudiated”.

Blatter risks investigation at local level while already a suspect in two criminal proceedings opened by federal prosecutors into how he spent FIFA’s money as president.

Those investigations involve FIFA paying $2m (£1.5m) to former UEFA president Michel Platini in 2011 and $1m (£744,000) to the Trinidad and Tobago football body – effectively to disgraced former FIFA vice president Jack Warner – weeks before the Caribbean island’s general election in 2010.

The museum has made a loss each year, including $50m (£37.2m) in 2016 that included one-off costs, FIFA said then in its financial report.

The most recent FIFA accounts for 2019 show almost $3.5m (£2.6m) revenue from the FIFA World Football Museum and $6.3m (£4.7m) costs for investment and expenses. There was a record 161,700 visitors at the Zurich building in 2016.

In the 2018 accounts, revenue was almost $4m (£3m) against $12m (£8.9m) in spending.

The FIFA museum was identified closely with Blatter from the time it was announced in April 2012.

His executive committee had already approved 180m Swiss francs (£133.9m) for what was being called Project Libero, and forecast to attract 300,000 visitors each year.

“It is high time that world football had a meeting place for its millions of fans,” Blatter said then of a museum originally to be built underground next to FIFA’s headquarters on a wooded hillside above the city.

FIFA said on Tuesday that files on the museum project would be sent to its ethics investigators.

The complaint filed by FIFA against Blatter is the latest act in a busy year in criminal investigations linked to football’s governing body.

Several criminal complaints were filed anonymously against Blatter’s successor, Gianni Infantino, and Switzerland’s attorney general, Michael Lauber, about three meetings they had in 2016 and 2017. Lauber was forced from office in the fallout, including for misleading an oversight panel.

A special prosecutor appointed to examine the meetings recommended this month that Infantino be investigated for using a private jet on FIFA business in 2017.

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