Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini acquitted of FIFA fraud charges

BELLINZONE, Switzerland (AP) — Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini were acquitted in a Swiss criminal court on Friday of charges of cheating FIFA, a rare positive result for the couple who were among the most powerful figures in football before be involved in corruption investigations.

The case centered on a $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 my thanks today to the court, to this city, for the people of the court, for the way they analyzed the situation and they explained why we did nothing. both. ”

Swiss prosecutor Thomas Hildbrand had requested a 20-month suspended sentence for Blatter and Platini. Instead, the two were cleared and also awarded costs during the trial, while Blatter also received compensation of 20,000 Swiss francs ($20,500) for being morally wronged, the report said. court.

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. Because I will not give up and I will go all the way in my quest for truth.

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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 doubts remain about their guilt.

Any appeal must be announced within 10 days.

“FIFA takes note of the first instance judgment relating to the indictment which has been filed by the MPC (Swiss Public Prosecutor’s Office) and will await the full, written and reasoned judgment in order to assess and decide of the next steps in 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 comes to you in a totally unfair way,” Platini added.

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.

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Platini has not identified current FIFA President Gianni Infantino, although it seems clear he was one of the ‘culprits’ mentioned.

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.

“My ban from football wasn’t fair,” Blatter said. “But I’m still here now and with this court decision, it not only gives me more credit, because I still have credit, but it gives me new stamina to work for FIFA, to work for football. “

Blatter was asked if he had a message for fellow Swiss Infantino.

“No, I will not 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.

AP Sports Writer Graham Dunbar in Geneva contributed to this report


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