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 May 11, 2002 | 1143 IST

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Blatter blasts 'smear' as legal action starts

Timothy Collings

FIFA president Sepp Blatter hit back at his opponents for waging a "smear campaign" against him after 11 members of the governing body's executive committee began legal proceedings against him in Switzerland on Friday.

In a joint-statement five FIFA vice-presidents -- David Will, Lennart Johansson, Issa Hayatou, Antonio Matarrese and Mong-joon Chung -- confirmed they had started the legal process against Blatter, whom they have accused of mismanaging FIFA and of a "misuse of funds".

But the beleaguered Blatter described the claims about his management made by FIFA general secretary Michel Zen-Ruffinen as "lies" and "fabrication" and part of a campaign to oust him from power.

"I can assure you that I shall be replying publicly to these lies in the next few days and I shall supply you with papers showing the extent of the fabrication currently being produced," Blatter wrote in a letter to all the presidents of FIFA's 204 national associations.

The legal action is an unprecedented move in FIFA's 98-year history and comes just three weeks before Blatter, 66, is due to stand for re-election as president of the world body at a congress in Seoul on May 29.

His sole opponent is Hayatou of Cameroon, the president of the African Football Confederation (CAF).

A Zurich prosecutor confirmed he had received a formal complaint against Blatter.

Hansruedi Mueller, the chief prosecutor in the canton of Zurich, told Reuters he would decide on Monday how to continue with the procedure that he said would last a long time.

"This afternoon I received the formal complaint from eleven members of the FIFA executive board against Sepp Blatter, and it is concerning improper business conduct and misuse of funds," Mueller told Reuters.


In a statement issued later on Friday, Blatter accused his opponents of waging a smear campaign against him, saying: "It saddens me that my political opponents in the struggle for the FIFA presidency do not recoil from the thought of a further escalation in events.

"It is extremely unusual that a candidate should use his political allies to wage the election campaign through the courts.

"It astounds me that those who are against me have made their intentions known by means of a (European governing body) UEFA press release, thereby giving the impression that they are acting on behalf of the 51 national associations."

The legal moves follow a 21-page report, presented to the executive committee last Friday in which Zen-Ruffinen alleged that Blatter had mismanaged FIFA and its finances and could be guilty of some criminal acts under the Swiss penal code.

"The fact that I did not even have the chance to respond in an appropriate manner to a document presented by the general secretary is a measure of the style of this smear campaign," Blatter said.

"The general secretary's document, prepared over a matter of weeks, included misleading facts, figures and allegations. It is a campaign that is doing immeasurable damage to football's image.

"I remain unperturbed by the prospect of a possible investigation. I am preparing my written response, which will clarify both the matter at hand and my good name."

The move to take action against Blatter was announced on Wednesday by UEFA president Johansson, who is also a vice-president of FIFA and a member of the executive committee.


The statement issued by the five FIFA vice-presidents did not mince words.

"We and our fellow FIFA Executive Committee members, have taken this step in light of the report of the FIFA general secretary.

"This report has shown numerous irregularities which exist within FIFA, and various non-constitutional decisions taken by the FIFA President, some of which may constitute criminal acts under the Swiss penal code.

"The refusal of the FIFA president to resign his post, despite the evidence before the executive committee, left us with no choice but to retain the services of a Swiss law firm.

"We have now been advised that the facts brought forward by the FIFA general secretary most likely do constitute various criminal offences and that we are obliged to refer these to the appropriate authorities.

"We take no pleasure in proceeding in this way but as members of the controlling body of FIFA we have a legal responsibility to the FIFA member associations and a possible personal liability which requires us to act.

"We regret that a formal legal complaint is necessary but we are convinced that it is the only possible appropriate step to restore FIFA's honour and dignity.

Blatter last week described Zen-Ruffinen's report as a "total misunderstanding". He has always vigorously denied any wrongdoing.

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