By John Miller
Suspended FIFA President Sepp Blatter appeared before the ethics committee of world soccer’s governing body on Thursday in a case that could end with him banned from the sport for years.
FIFA is reeling from the worst corruption scandal in its more than 100-year history, with 41 people including national soccer bosses as well as entities charged by U.S. prosecutors and Blatter under criminal investigation in Switzerland.
Blatter, who is due to leave the post on Feb. 26 when his successor will be elected, arrived at FIFA headquarters in Zurich in a chauffeur-driven vehicle with one of his lawyers.
Blatter was suspended on Oct. 8 from all soccer-related activity for 90 days alongside European (UEFA) soccer chief Michel Platini pending a full investigation into their conduct.
The FIFA ethics inquiry began in the wake of the Swiss attorney general office’s decision to open criminal proceedings against Blatter over a $2 million payment to Platini in 2011.
Blatter and Platini have both denied wrongdoing.
Platini, who had intended to run for the FIFA presidency, was due to be heard by the committee on Friday but has refused to attend, saying the process against him is purely political.
Earlier this week, Blatter wrote to FIFA’s 209 member state associations, on his own stationary, proclaiming his innocence.
He reiterated that the payment made when Blatter was running for re-election of UEFA, was legitimate and resulted from a verbal contract for work Platini had done for FIFA years before.
Separately, a spokesman for the Swiss Justice Ministry said on Thursday it had frozen millions of Swiss francs related to FIFA in response to a request from U.S. investigators.
“U.S. authorities asked for documents related to 50 accounts at different banks, through which corruption money is supposed to have transited,” Swiss Justice Ministry spokesman Folco Galli said, confirming a report by Swiss newspaper Tages-Anzeiger.
In a statement, Galli said a “high double-digit million amount” had been frozen following the U.S. request to authorities in Switzerland, where FIFA is based.