SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) The president of South American soccer's governing body said Friday he supports Michel Platini to succeed Sepp Blatter as FIFA president despite an ongoing investigation involving two of the most powerful men in world soccer.
Blatter and Platini have become entangled in a Swiss criminal probe and were recently handed 90-day suspensions by FIFA's ethics committee. The sanction practically ended Blatter's 17-year rule as FIFA president and will likely hurt Platini's chances of replacing him.
But CONMEBOL President Juan Angel Napout said he continues to stand behind the UEFA president even after Platini lost England's support for his FIFA presidential bid Friday, signaling the first crack in the European unity behind the Frenchman.
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''I have no reason to change my opinion of Michel. I think he's an excellent leader and I hope the appeal and the investigation bring to light what we all hope,'' Napout told The Associated Press after a CONMEBOL meeting at a luxury hotel in the Chilean capital.
The suspensions for Blatter and Platini were imposed after Swiss authorities began probing a payment from FIFA to the former France captain in 2011 for work carried out at least nine years earlier. Both deny any wrongdoing. Blatter, however, could face an even longer ban after admitting there was only a ''gentleman's agreement'' for the payment he authorized to Platini.
The U.S. Justice Department has indicted 14 soccer officials and businessmen on charges of bribery, racketeering, and money laundering. Among them are two former CONMEBOL presidents, who are fighting extradition to the U.S. FIFA has tried to clean up the image of the world's most popular sport by ramping up the scale of inquiries into alleged illegality as a way of demonstrating that it is committed to eradicating corruption.
Napout also said CONMEBOL will soon decide the future of soccer marketing contracts held with companies investigated over alleged corruption by the U.S. Justice Department. A legal firm in Boston has been reviewing the contracts for CONMEBOL tournaments, including the Copa America Centenario. The tournament is scheduled for June 3-26, 2016, but details have not been announced since U.S. federal indictments were unsealed in May.
''We're going to have news on this soon. The attorneys are dealing with this issue and negotiating it,'' Napout said. ''We spoke a lot about it during out meeting today because the future of the Copa Centenario depends on it.''
Luis Andres Henao on Twitter: https://twitter.com/LuisAndresHenao