By Simon Evans
ZURICH (Reuters) - Sepp Blatter has not ruled out trying to stay on as FIFA’s president beyond February’s scheduled election, despite facing a criminal investigation and a possible internal ethics probe, a close confidant told Reuters on Tuesday.
The scenario where Blatter would try to stay on appears far-fetched, and an ethics investigation could lead to his suspension from the game before the election even begins.
But the comments from Blatter’s former public relations adviser Klaus Stoehlker offer an insight into the embattled FIFA president’s thinking.
The Swiss attorney general's office (OAG) opened criminal proceedings against Blatter on Friday, saying he was suspected of making a "disloyal payment" of 2 million Swiss francs ($2.04 million) to Michael Platini.
A 2005 television rights contract which Blatter signed on behalf of FIFA with the Caribbean Football Union is also part of the investigation, the OAG said.
Blatter announced in June, following the indictment of 14 soccer officials and sports marketing executives, that he would “give back his mandate” at a special elective congress on Feb. 26.
However Stoehlker said the 79-year-old did not put that formally in writing at any stage.
“About 10 days ago he gave an in-house conference at FIFA and he said to everyone there, ‘we don’t know what will happen on February 26 but when there will be no candidate elected, I (will) feel obligated to stay’,” said Stoehlker.
Stoehlker said he had spoken to Blatter several times in recent days and found him very calm.
“Sepp Blatter is not nervous, he is not limited in his analysis, he is fully relaxed. He is leading FIFA until this moment, then he will see if there is a candidate who is able to step into his shoes,” he said.
However Stoehlker said Blatter would not put himself forward as a candidate before the Oct. 26 deadline for nominations.
“No he is not a candidate because the president is the president. The question is only ... that (if) there is no other candidate who is able to win, so he has to go on.”
The only scenario in which no candidate would win a multi-candidate election would be if congress decided not to hold a vote and canceled the election. A proposal could be made by any member association at FIFA's congress to cancel the election.
If there is only one candidate for president, congress voters are given a choice of voting "yes" or "no".
A spokesperson for FIFA refused to comment on the prospect of Blatter remaining in office beyond February and said: “Mr Stoehlker does not represent Mr Blatter in his current capacity as FIFA president, as such FIFA does not comment on statements by Mr Stoehlker.”
Stoehlker, who was Blatter’s consultant for May’s election, said he had been given permission by Blatter to talk about his current thinking to the media.
He said Blatter felt he enjoyed the full support of FIFA’s ruling executive committee, or "Exco", and remained in charge of the organization, continuing to put in long days at the body’s Zurich headquarters.
“His mood is perfect. He was hunted for the last six months and somehow he has to balance it. But what happened in just the last four weeks is that Exco is behind him. At the last Exco, 100 percent of what he proposed was accepted by the Exco. The whole Exco, the government of FIFA is behind their president,” he said.
FIFA’s independent ethics investigators are however reported to be investigating Blatter, following Friday’s OAG announcement. The investigators are not authorized to comment on individual cases or even confirm they are under way.
In some previous cases, soccer officials have been suspended pending investigations.
Stoehlker acknowledged that Blatter faced problems with some of the independent bodies and lawyers operating within FIFA.
“There is a certain risk that all these organizations are eating him up," he said.
(Reporting by Simon Evans; editing by Andrew Roche)