Former football chiefs learn fate in $2mn fraud case
Former FIFA president Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini, the former chief of UEFA, have been acquitted by a Swiss court in their long-running corruption case. The pair had faced criminal proceedings over a payment of 2 million Swiss francs ($2.05 million) which then-FIFA chief Blatter arranged to UEFA counterpart Platini back in 2011.
Prosecutors had argued that the reason the pair had given for the payment, which they said was based on a 'gentleman’s agreement' made in 1998 for services Platini provided as a consultant, was a lie.
Suspicions were raised over the timing of the 2011 transfer, which came when Blatter was seeking re-election as FIFA chief and Platini’s position at UEFA meant he had considerable clout over European voting.
Prosecutors at the Federal Criminal Court in the Swiss city of Bellinzona had requested suspended prison sentences of 20 months for the pair, although the court ruled that they should be acquitted in its verdict on Friday. Platini can now have the payment returned.
The court explained in a written statement that “after examining and evaluating all evidence and circumstantial evidence as well as hearing various witnesses in the main hearing, the criminal court came to the conclusion that the result of the evidence supports the version of the accused [Blatter and Platini].
“The facts of the indictment cannot therefore be considered to have been created with a probability bordering on certainty.”
In response to the decision, FIFA issued a short statement saying it “takes note of the verdict” but “will await the full reasoned judgement before commenting further.”
Blatter and Platini were both handed eight-year bans from football in 2015 when the case emerged, although that was later cut to six years.
Blatter, however, was hit with a second FIFA ban last year which will run until 2028, following an ethics investigation into bonus payment.
Frenchman Platini, 67, was heralded as one of the finest footballers of his generation, winning the Ballon d'Or three times during his heyday in the 1980s.
He has claimed that the case against him was part of an effort to ruin his chances of becoming FIFA president. He formally stepped down as head of UEFA in 2016.
“I wanted to express my happiness for all my loved ones that justice has finally been done after seven years of lies and manipulation,” Platini said in a statement after Friday’s verdict.
“I kept saying it: my fight is a fight against injustice. I won a first game. In this case, there are culprits who did not appear during this trial. Let them count on me, we will meet again because I will not give up and I will go all the way in my quest for truth.”
Blatter, 86, was long considered one of world football’s most powerful men. The Swiss first joined FIFA in the mid-1970s and became its president in 1998, before resigning in 2015 when a growing list of scandals caught up with him.
“First of all, I have to say that I’m very happy man,” said Blatter outside the court on Friday.
“I am a happy man because I also have to express thanks to the court today, to this city, for people in the court, the way they have analyzed the situation and they have explained why both of us we haven’t done anything.”