Tuesday, 16 August, 2022

Blatter, Platini cleared in FIFA fraud trial

Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini, once the chiefs of world and European football, were cleared Friday over a suspected fraudulent payment that shook the sport and torpedoed their time at the top.

Switzerland's Federal Criminal Court in the southern city of Bellinzona acquitted the pair in a trial following a mammoth investigation that began in 2015.

Former FIFA president Blatter, 86, and Platini, 67, listened in silence as the clerk read out the judgement which rejected the prosecution's request for a suspended prison sentence of a year and eight months.

"What I've been saying for seven years... the court today said it was the truth so I'm very happy that finally the truth arrives after seven years of manipulation, lies and injustice," Platini said afterwards.

Blatter gave a thumbs-up as he left the court. "I am very happy... the reaction from the world of football will be good, because Platini and I were great thinking heads -- and players, for him -- of our organisation," he said.

The trial revolved around payment for Platini's work as an adviser to Blatter between 1998 and 2002.

Platini was accused of having submitted to FIFA in 2011 an allegedly fictitious invoice for a claimed debt still outstanding for his advisory work. Blatter told the court that when he took over as FIFA president in 1998, world football's governing body had a bad record and he thought someone who had been a top figure in playing the game could help.

He turned to Platini for advice, which involved political trips, reforming the international calendar and helping the national federations financially.

They signed a contract in 1999 for an annual remuneration of 300,000 Swiss francs, which was paid in full by FIFA.

But the pair were tried over a two million Swiss franc ($2.05 million) payment in 2011 to Platini, who was then in charge of European football's governing body UEFA.

Former world football chief Blatter told the court that the pair had actually struck a "gentleman's agreement" for Platini to be paid a million Swiss francs a year.

Platini had jokingly asked Blatter for a million, without specifying the currency, and the then-FIFA president agreed, with part of the money -- outside of the contract they signed -- to be paid "later", the court heard.

Platini and Blatter were banned from the sport at the very moment when the former seemed ideally placed to succeed Blatter at the helm of world football's governing body.

The two allies became rivals as Platini grew impatient to take over, while Blatter's tenure was brought to a swift end by a separate 2015 FIFA corruption scandal investigated by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Joseph "Sepp" Blatter joined FIFA in 1975, became its general secretary in 1981 and the president of world football's governing body in 1998. Platini was UEFA's president from January 2007 to December 2015.