Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini were acquitted of FIFA fraud charges by a Swiss criminal court on Friday, a rare positive result for the two men who were among football’s most powerful figures before becoming embroiled in investigations into Corruption.
The case centered on a US$2 million payment from FIFA to Platini with Blatter’s approval in 2011, for work done a decade earlier. The verdict follows an 11-day trial last month before the Swiss Federal Criminal Court in Bellinzona.
“First of all, I have to say that I am a very happy man,” Blatter, 86, told reporters on the steps of the courthouse. « I am a happy man because I also have to express today my thanks to the court, to this city, to the people of the court, for the way they analyzed the situation and they explained why we did not do anything. both. «
Blatter and Platini sat quietly at separate tables with their attorneys as the verdict was announced. Later, there was a round of applause from the small audience as the pair began to walk out of the courtroom, after a brief conversation between them and an exchange of wry smiles.
« Following the decision of the judges of the Bellinzona court this morning, I wanted to express my joy for all my loved ones that justice has finally been served after seven years of lies and manipulation, » Platini said. « The truth came to light during this trial. »
“I kept repeating it: my fight is a fight against injustice. I won a first match. In this case, there are culprits who did not appear during this trial. Let them count on me, we will see each other again. give up and I will go all the way in my quest for the truth. »
The three federal judges said prosecutors did not sufficiently prove their case, so they had to apply the « in dubio pro reo » principle that a defendant should not be convicted when there are doubts about their guilt.
Any appeal must be announced within 10 days.
« FIFA takes note of the first instance judgment relating to the indictment which was filed by the MPC (General Prosecutor’s Office of the Confederation) and will await the full, written and reasoned judgment in order to assess and decide on the next stages of the procedure, » said FIFA lawyer Catherine Hohl-Chirazi.
Blatter announced in June 2015 his intention to step down early as president, following an extensive US corruption probe. Less than four months later, a separate but cooperating case by Swiss prosecutors led to an investigation into Platini’s payment.
The fallout removed Blatter, but also ended Platini’s campaign to succeed his former mentor and saw the French footballing great removed as president of European football’s governing body UEFA. .
« Believe me, going from world football legend to devil is very difficult, especially when it affects you in a totally unfair way, » Platini added.
Past court cases, ban after verbal agreement
Blatter and Platini have long denied wrongdoing and claim to have reached a verbal agreement in 1998 for Platini to receive extra salary which FIFA could not pay at the time. Platini signed a contract in August 1999 to be paid 300,000 Swiss francs ($300,000) per year.
This defense failed first with the judges of the FIFA Ethics Committee, which banned them from football, and later in separate appeals before the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
Platini ultimately secured a court victory in the first criminal case after losses in five civil courts, including the European Court of Human Rights.
His ban by FIFA for unethical conduct expired in October 2021 and Friday’s verdict should pave the way for Platini to return to working in football.
« I don’t know. I’m so young, I have time ahead of me, » Platini, 67, said when asked if his time in football was over.
Infantino served as UEFA general secretary for six years under Platini and won the FIFA presidency in an election in February 2016 as an emergency candidate after his boss became embroiled in the criminal investigation. Platini has long claimed to be the victim of a plot to deny him the FIFA leadership job and filed a criminal complaint against Infantino and others in France last year.
Infantino faces re-election next March and Platini could still try to fight for a job he has often described as his destiny. However, he laughed loudly when asked if he would run for president.
Infantino faces his own legal danger in a separate investigation by Swiss special prosecutors into his undisclosed meetings over FIFA cases in 2016 and 2017 with former attorney general Michael Lauber.
Appearing shaky in court, Blatter was again banned by FIFA ethics judges last year until 2028 over allegations of self-dealing in management bonuses.
Blatter was asked if he had a message for fellow Swiss Infantino.
« No, I won’t talk about my compatriot, » he said. « But he will think about his attitude when he now listens to the decision made by this tribunal. »
Blatter is also a suspect in separate Swiss criminal proceedings – also led by prosecutor Hildbrand – probing $1 million paid by FIFA in 2010 to the Trinidad and Tobago football federation then controlled by the head of football today. now in disgrace Jack Warner.