The trial of fallen football bosses Blatter and Platini begins

BELLINZONA (Switzerland) (AFP) – Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini, once the bosses of world and European football, were on trial in Switzerland on Wednesday on suspicion of a fraudulent payment.

Former FIFA President Blatter, 86, and Platini, 66, appeared before the Federal Criminal Court in the south of Bellinzona after a six-year investigation that began in 2015.

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.

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.

He and the retired Swiss football administrator Blatter face up to five years in prison.

Both are accused of fraud and forgery. Blatter is accused of embezzlement and criminal mismanagement, Platini involvement in these crimes.

The trial ends June 22 and the three judges are expected to render their verdict on July 8.

Retired Swiss football administrator Blatter, dressed in a three-piece suit and white shirt, arrived at court with his daughter Corinne and his lawyer Lorenz Erni.

Platini arrived in a suit and a blue and white pinstriped shirt before the trial opened at 9:00 am (0700 GMT).

– Allies became rivals –

The judges must go through the friendship between the defendants, their growing rivalry and then their joint expulsion from world football – but again distinguishing that from the alleged crimes at the heart of the trial.

The charges were filed by the Federal Public Prosecutor’s Office (BA).

Both FIFA and UEFA have their headquarters in Switzerland, in Zurich and Nyon respectively.

Platini and Blatter were banned from the sport at precisely the moment when the former seemed to offer the ideal conditions 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 the prosecution 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.

– Payment “without legal basis” –

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.

“With Blatter’s participation, FIFA made a payment to Platini in the amount mentioned in early 2011. 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.

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.

Joseph “Sepp” Blatter joined FIFA in 1975, became its general secretary in 1981 and became president of world football’s 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.

Platini was UEFA President from January 2007 to December 2015.

He appealed his original eight-year suspension to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which reduced it to four years.

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