Lausanne (AFP) – Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini, once the bosses of world and European football, are on trial on Wednesday over an alleged fraudulent payment that has rocked the sport and torpedoed their time at the top.
Former FIFA president Blatter, 86, and Platini, 66, are beginning a two-week trial at Switzerland’s Federal Criminal Court in the southern city of Bellinzona, following a mammoth investigation that began in 2015 and lasted six years.
The pair are on trial over a 2011 payment of two million Swiss francs ($2.08 million) to Platini, who was then in charge of European football’s governing body UEFA.
They are accused of illegally obtaining the payment plus social security contributions of 229,126 francs in favor of Platini at the expense of FIFA.
The former French soccer star “submitted an allegedly fictitious bill to FIFA in 2011 for an (alleged) outstanding debt for his work as an adviser to FIFA from 1998 to 2002,” according to the court.
Both defendants are accused of fraud and forgery. Blatter is accused of embezzlement and criminal mismanagement, Platini involvement in these crimes.
The charges were filed by the Federal Public Prosecutor’s Office (BA).
The trial ends on June 22nd and the three judges will announce their verdict on July 8th.
The accused face up to five years in prison or a fine.
Both FIFA and UEFA have their headquarters in Switzerland, in Zurich and Nyon respectively.
– “oral contract” –
Platini and retired Swiss football manager Blatter were banned from the sport just as Platini seemed ideally placed to succeed Blatter at the helm of world football’s governing body.
The two allies became rivals as Platini impatiently awaited the takeover, while Blatter’s tenure was quickly ended by a separate 2015 FIFA corruption scandal investigated by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation.
In the Bellinzona trial, the defense and prosecutors agree on one point: Platini was employed by Blatter as an advisor between 1998 and 2002. In 1999 they signed a contract for an annual fee of CHF 300,000.
“The compensation agreed under this contract was invoiced by Platini and paid in full by FIFA,” said the BA.
However, more than eight years after the end of his consulting work, the former France captain “demanded a payment of two million francs,” the BA claimed.
“In early 2011, FIFA, with Blatter’s participation, made a payment to Platini in the said amount. Evidence collected by BA has confirmed that this payment to Platini was made without legal basis. This payment damaged FIFA’s assets and unlawfully enriched Platini,” the federal prosecutor claims.
The men insist that they verbally agreed on an annual salary of one million Swiss francs from the start.
“It is an outstanding salary owed by FIFA, paid under oral contract and under conditions of the most perfect legality. nothing else! I have acted with the utmost honesty, as I have done throughout my life and career,” Platini said in a statement sent to AFP.
As a civil party, FIFA wants the money paid in 2011 returned so that it “can be used for the only purpose it was intended for: football,” its lawyer, Catherine Hohl-Chirazi, told AFP.
– Ballon d’Or Winner –
Joseph “Sepp” Blatter joined FIFA in 1975, became its general secretary in 1981 and became president of the world governing body in 1998.
He was forced to resign in 2015 and was banned by FIFA for eight years, later reduced to six, for ethical violations for authorizing the payment to Platini, which was said to be in his own interest rather than FIFA’s interest.
Platini is considered one of the greatest footballers of all time. He won the Ballon d’Or, considered the most prestigious individual award, three times – in 1983, 1984 and 1985.
Only Lionel Messi (seven) and Cristiano Ronaldo (five) have won more Ballons d’Or than Platini.
Platini was UEFA President from January 2007 to December 2015.
Platini appealed his original eight-year suspension to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which reduced it to four years.