Former FIFA president Sepp Blatter has been handed a new ban from football after being found to be part of a “vicious circle” of officials who sought to award themselves over £50million in undeclared payments.
Blatter, 85, is currently serving a six-year suspension for earlier ethics breaches which expires in October, at which point a new ban for a further six years and eight months will kick in for behaviour which FIFA’s ethics committee described as “completely reprehensible”.
The new suspension, if not reduced on appeal, would run until June 2028 when Blatter would be 92.
He was found to have accepted undue economic benefits totalling 23 million Swiss francs (just under £18m) and approved payments or bonuses of a further 46m Swiss francs (just under £36m) to other officials. In addition to the ban, he was fined one million Swiss francs (just under £780,000).
Former FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke was one of the officials who benefited from the undue payments. Like Blatter, he was banned for a further six years and eight months and fined one million Swiss francs.
He is currently serving a 10-year ban imposed in 2015 – again, his new suspension will only begin when the current sanction runs out.
Undue benefits to Blatter were authorised by Valcke and Julio Grondona, the former president of the Argentinian football federation who died in 2014.
Blatter then approved a variety of benefits – in the form of amended contract agreements or bonus payments – to Valcke, Grondona and FIFA’s former finance director Markus Kattner.
The men were found by FIFA’s ethics investigators to have “set up a scheme through which they were allowing themselves to obtain extraordinary benefits with a minimum of effort”.
A written judgement published on Wednesday added: “This vicious circle saw three of them (Blatter, Grondona and Valcke) signing the amendment contracts of the others and approving the respective extraordinary bonuses, while the fourth (Kattner) was in charge of implementing the payment of such bonuses.”
Investigators found employment contracts for Blatter, Valcke and Kattner were amended “without any supervision or control from an internal or external body in FIFA” and that the officials involved “actively concealed” the bonus payment awards by not fully declaring them in the organisation’s financial records.
Incredibly, it also found that within the amended contracts for Valcke and Kattner, which Blatter approved, were indemnity clauses which meant they would be due financial compensation even in the event that their employment was terminated with good cause.
“These provisions go beyond what is reasonable and permissible as there was not enough reason that could justify such generous behaviour by FIFA as the employer,” the judgement said.
Valcke was found to have accepted undue benefits worth 30m Swiss francs – 9m in relation to the 2010 World Cup, 10m in relation to the 2013 Confederations Cup and 2014 World Cup in Brazil, and 11m in relation to the 2017 Confederations Cup and 2018 World Cup in Russia.
The judgement said in finding Blatter guilty of ethics breaches: “Mr Blatter held the highest position in football as FIFA president and, as such, had a tremendous responsibility to serve the football community as a role model.
“By his conduct, the integrity and objectivity of FIFA have therefore been exceedingly violated. FIFA’s reputation has doubtlessly incurred serious and long-lasting damage.
“All in all, the accused’s behaviour… must be regarded as completely reprehensible.”
Kattner was banned for 10 years in 2020 in relation to the same matter.
The ethics investigation also found Valcke had approved a payment of 9,714.95 Swiss francs from FIFA accounts to reimburse himself and Kattner for the legal fees they incurred in the preparation of the amended contract agreements which were found to breach FIFA ethics rules.
Blatter and Valcke have 21 days to lodge an appeal against the sanctions and decision with the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
The current ban Blatter is serving was initially imposed for a term of eight years in December 2015. That related to a payment made to former UEFA president Michel Platini. The sanction was reduced to six years on appeal.
Last December FIFA issued a separate complaint of “criminal mismanagement” against Blatter to the Zurich prosecutor in relation to his involvement, along with other officials, in the FIFA museum project in the same city.
In a statement released to the PA news agency by Blatter’s spokesman Thomas Renggli, the former FIFA president said it was a “painful and incomprehensible blow”.
It added: “The ethics committee in its current form has nothing to do with an independent body – it is much more the extended arm of the FIFA president (Gianni Infantino) and not much more than a ‘parallel justice’.”