Sepp Blatter loses appeal at CAS against 6-year FIFA ban
FILE - In this Dec. 21, 2015 file photo, FIFA President Sepp Blatter arrives for a news conference in Zurich, Switzerland. The Court of Arbitration for Sport is due to give its verdict Monday Dec. 5, 2016, on Blatter's appeal against a 6-year ban for approving a $2 million payment to Michel Platini in 2011. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader, File)
GRAHAM DUNBAR, AP Sports Writer
GENEVA (AP) — Sepp Blatter lost his appeal against a six-year ban by FIFA on Monday, and now has more serious legal cases lined up against him.
Blatter said in a statement it was "difficult" to accept the Court of Arbitration for Sport's verdict, but that "the way the case progressed, no other verdict could be expected."
The former FIFA president, who was banned for approving a $2 million payment to Michel Platini in 2011, said he will accept the decision. He could have pursued a further appeal at Switzerland's supreme court.
"I have experienced much in my 41 years in FIFA. I mostly learned that you can win in sport, but you can also lose," Blatter said. "Nevertheless I look back with gratitude to all the years, in which I was able to realize my ideals for football and serve FIFA."
The verdict ends Blatter's hopes of becoming honorary president of the soccer body he left in disgrace in February. He must also pay FIFA a fine of 50,000 Swiss francs ($49,500).
Still, his legal problems are far from over.
Blatter faces a separate FIFA ethics investigation into suspected bribery linked to multi-million dollar bonuses in top executives' contracts. Swiss prosecutors also opened criminal proceedings against Blatter for the Platini payment, and a sale of World Cup television rights.
He is also a stated target of American federal prosecutors in their sprawling investigation of corruption linked to international soccer officials, and an expected witness in a separate Swiss probe of German organizers of the 2006 World Cup.
Blatter denies any wrongdoing.
The three-member CAS panel was judging whether Blatter was guilty of unethically offering a cash gift and conflict of interest with Platini, who was a FIFA vice president in 2011.
Blatter and Platini both said the $2 million was uncontracted salary based on a verbal agreement more than a decade earlier. From 1999 to 2002, the former France great was the newly elected Blatter's presidential adviser.
"The payment amounted to an undue gift as it had no contractual basis," CAS said in a statement.
Blatter said Monday it was "incomprehensible" that his version was not accepted "in spite of my testimony to the contrary and the testimony given by other witnesses.
However, that explanation of a salary deal has now been doubted by three sets of judges at FIFA and CAS.
The FIFA ethics committee investigated after the payment emerged in September 2015 during the wider Swiss federal probe of FIFA.
Blatter and Platini — whose FIFA presidential bid was stalled, then ended, by the case — were banned from soccer duty for eight years last December. The FIFA appeal committee cut two years from both men's bans as "appropriate recognition" for their long service.
After a separate CAS appeal hearing, Platini's ban was reduced in May to four years, ensuring he lost the UEFA presidency.
When Blatter's case came to CAS in August, Platini testified on his behalf during a 14-hour hearing.
It might not be the last court room Blatter sees.
Blatter is suspected of bribery in a FIFA ethics case that was opened in September. It also implicates former secretary general Jerome Valcke and former finance director Markus Kattner, who were both fired by FIFA this year.
The latest ethics investigation relates to alleged self-dealing in FIFA employment contracts that promised Blatter tens of millions of dollars in bonuses for each successful World Cup and completing a four-year mandate.
The FIFA ethics committee and CAS have insisted on life bans in previous bribery cases.
FIFA has not filed a criminal complaint over the bonus payments, the Zurich-based soccer body said Monday.
Switzerland's attorney general has opened criminal proceedings against Blatter for suspected financial mismanagement and embezzlement in the Platini payment, plus FIFA awarding World Cup television rights to the Caribbean in 2005 that seemed undervalued by at least $15 million.
Swiss prosecutors have also opened a case against Franz Beckenbauer and other 2006 World Cup organizers over a suspicious payment of 6.7 million euros ($7 million) through FIFA's accounts in 2005. Blatter's former right-hand man Urs Linsi was formally made a suspect last month.
United States federal investigators have said Blatter is a target in their probe of bribery, wire fraud and money laundering in international soccer.
Several former FIFA vice presidents are among more than 40 soccer and marketing officials either indicted or who have made guilty pleas in a case that mostly involves commercial rights to non-FIFA tournaments and World Cup qualifying games in Latin America.
However, Blatter could be a significant witness to explain suspected bribe payments totaling $10 million through FIFA accounts in 2008. U.S. prosecutors said the money was to settle bribes for three FIFA voters, including American official Chuck Blazer, who supported South Africa's successful bid to host the 2010 World Cup.
The cases are expected to develop in the first half of 2017.
Blatter has acknowledged being advised by lawyers not to travel from Switzerland, which does not extradite its own citizens.
His last known trip abroad was to Russia in July 2015 to join Vladimir Putin on stage for the World Cup qualifying draw at a former royal palace in St. Petersburg.