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Suspended FIFA chief Blatter faces ethics commission

Suspended FIFA President Sepp Blatter has appeared before the soccer body's ethics commission to answer corruption charges. Switzerland has also frozen millions in accounts suspected to be linked to bribes.

Sepp Blatter, along with FIFA Vice President Michel Platini, arrived in Zurich in a black Mercedes Thursday morning but made no comment as he entered a hearing at the soccer body's ethics commission.

The 79-year-old is under criminal investigation in Switzerland over questionable payments worth 1.8 million euros ($2 million) made to Platini in 2011. Separately, FIFA is also under investigation by US officials for corruption.

Swiss authorities have agreed to a request from Washington to freeze a "high double-digit million amount" deposited in accounts in Switzerland suspected to be proceeds of a pervasive bribery culture.

"US 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 in a statement.

World soccer's governing body is suffering its worst corruption scandal in its history, with 41 entities and people including soccer bosses from throughout the Americas under indictment by US prosecutors.

Prosecutors have charged 39 individuals and two companies over suspected bribes of more than $200 million paid for football marketing and broadcasting rights deals.

The suspended FIFA chief is expected to plead innocent before a panel of four judges after entering the governing body's headquarters for the first time since October.

Under Blatter's leadership, FIFA empowered a tougher and more independent ethics committee in 2012. But Blatter has insisted that the committee doesn't have the authority to sack him and has complained about its focus on his conduct.

"They can be independent but they don't need to be against me," Blatter told the Russian news agency TASS in October, following the announcement of his 90-day suspension.

FIFA under extra scrutiny


FIFA has been plunged into several corruption scandals this year

FIFA watchers note the irony of Blatter's own ethics committee leading to his fall from grace.

"Now it has come back to haunt him," Mark Pieth, a former anti-corruption adviser to FIFA, told The Associated Press this week.

Blatter faces a lifetime ban from soccer if found guilty of bribery connected to the $2 million payment FIFA made to Platini. The ethics commission is scheduled to hear from Platini on Friday, but the Frenchman has said he will not appear.

Judge Hans-Joachim Eckert of Germany, chairman of the ethics committee adjudicatory chamber, is expected to read the court's verdict on Monday.

Blatter did, however, get an unlikely endorsement on Thursday from Russian President Vladimir Putin. He said Blatter had made important contributions to soccer and "deserves the Nobel Peace Prize."

jar/sms (AP, Reuters, AFP)

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