ZURICH (Reuters) - Key nations backing European soccer boss Michel Platini as the next FIFA President are adopting a more cautious approach to his bid while Swiss authorities investigating graft at world soccer’s governing body look into a $2 million payment it made to him.
Bookmakers’ odds on Platini to win the February vote have markedly lengthened since Friday when Swiss police placed president of 17 years Sepp Blatter under criminal investigation and accused him of making a “disloyal payment” of 2 million Swiss francs ($2.05 million) to Platini in 2011 for work deemed to have been performed between January 1999 and June 2002.
Both Platini and Blatter deny wrongdoing over the affair, part of a broader scandal that began unfolding in May when 14 soccer officials and marketing executives were indicted in the United States for bribery, money laundering and wire fraud.
But a number of federations say they might review support for Platini depending on results of an inquiry into the payment.
While not dropping their backing for Platini, the English, German and Italian federations have expressed concerns over the allegations while the Swedish FA said the case could interfere with their support.
The European soccer federation UEFA said Platini had met with investigators as a witness; but on Tuesday, Swiss Attorney General Michael Lauber said Platini was considered as somewhere “between a witness and an accused person”.
Platini said on Wednesday the nine-year delay between his work as an advisor to Blatter and the payment, was because FIFA were unable to pay his full salary in 2002 because of their financial situation.
FIFA’s 2002 financial report cited a 115 million Swiss Franc surplus for the period 1999-2002.
England’s FA issued a statement after a meeting on Wednesday, recalling it had unanimously backed Platini in July.
“We did so because we thought he was an excellent President of UEFA and could bring those same leadership qualities to FIFA. We are still of that view.
“However, events of recent days have raised a number of issues which do need to be fully examined. We are following the ongoing investigation initiated by the Swiss Attorney General with which Mr Platini is co-operating in full.”
The German football federation, the DFB, had been one of the first federations to throw their weight behind Platini in July after Blatter, now facing investigation under suspicion of criminal mismanagement and misappropriation, announced he would be stepping down.
“Part of a serious administration is to look carefully at what it is about and whether there is indeed misconduct,” DFB president Wolfgang Niersbach told the Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper.
The Feb. 26 election will take place in Zurich, and each of FIFA’s 209 national associations will have one vote.
In July, Italian Football Federation head Carlo Tavecchio said Platini would be the right person to lead FIFA reform.
But speaking on Italian radio this week, Tavecchio said that it was too soon to comment on the specifics of this case involving Platini, but that the Italians were waiting to see how judicial proceedings developed.
Swedish FA chair Karl-Erik Nilsson told Reuters: “At the moment we have no other opinion than support for Platini. What has happened can obviously interfere with that, but we in the SvFF have confidence in Platini.”
Separate from any investigation, Platini must pass the FIFA ‘integrity check’ if the body’s Election Committee is to accept him as a candidate.
According to FIFA’s statutes and regulations, the check involves a self-declaration where candidates must state if they are in compliance with the FIFA Ethics Code.
That code includes a series of specific activities that FIFA officials must avoid and also contains a general section which says officials “must refrain from any activity or behavior that might give rise to the appearance or suspicion of improper conduct”.
Additional reporting by Brian Homewood in Zurich; Philip O'Connor in Stockholm and Karolos Grohmann in Berlin; editing by Ralph Boulton