Embattled world football chief Sepp Blatter’s grip on power faces a new threat after it was alleged that the FBI is investigating the Fifa president’s possible involvement in a $100m bribery scandal.
Federal agents are probing illicit payments made by now-defunct sports marketing company ISL to officials, including Blatter’s predecessor Joao Havelange, according to the BBC’s Panorama programme.
Monday night's episode – Panorama: Fifa, Sepp Blatter and Me, by veteran investigative journalist Andrew Jennings – reports that the FBI has a letter that purports to indicate Blatter knew of the bribes. He has always argued that he was unaware of any wrongdoing.
It comes just days after the United States Department of Justice indicted 16 current and former football officials, including Fifa vice-presidents Alfredo Hawit and Juan Angel Napout, on allegations of corruption.
Long-serving Blatter, 79, has pledged to stand down in February but could depart before Christmas. Fifa’s own ethics committee is investigating a disputed £1.3m payment by Blatter to European chief Michel Platini and is expected to rule later this month.
Platini, who like Blatter has been temporarily suspended pending the outcome of the Fifa ethics investigation, received a boost to his hopes of escaping a ban yesterday.
Both men are in the spotlight for a £1.3m payment made by Blatter to Platini in 2011 which both men say was for work carried out by the Frenchman for Fifa between 1998 and 2002.
They have said it was based on a verbal contract, but a French newspaper yesterday alleged that a memo stating Platini was to be paid 1m Swiss francs a year was presented at a Uefa meeting in 1998.
Former France captain Platini’s lawyer Thomas Clay called it “very important evidence that Mr Platini has always been telling the truth”.
“It shows that the contract did not have any sort of secret character and that many people, including those in Uefa and Fifa, have known about it since 1998,” Clay added.
“From the moment that we have proof of an agreement between Fifa and Mr Platini, and of knowledge of this agreement by officials of Uefa, then this inquiry falls down.”
Platini is still hoping to stand in February’s Fifa presidential election but his hopes rest on being cleared of wrongdoing by the ethics committee. If found guilty, he and Blatter are expected to be handed lengthy bans.
Five more candidates have been confirmed for the election on 26 February: Jordanian football chief Prince Ali bin al-Hussein, Asian confederation president Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim al-Khalifa, South Africa politician Tokyo Sexwale, former Fifa executive Jerome Champagne and Platini’s Uefa general secretary Gianni Infantino.
Infantino has pledged to withdraw his candidacy if Platini stands.