Following an 11-day trial, a federal court in Bellinzona, Switzerland, acquitted former FIFA president Sepp Blatter and his former right-hand man, Michel Platini, of corruption charges on Friday.
After a six-year probe that lost both men significant positions in international soccer’s governing body, Swiss authorities officially charged Blatter in November with sanctioning an illegal payment of more than $2 million to Platini in 2011. During the trial, the defendants claimed that the money was repaid for services given by Platini as a FIFA consultant.
During the trial, Blatter and Platini said that they reached a “gentlemen’s arrangement” regarding his income in 1998, when Blatter claimed FIFA could not afford his salary. Platini would sign a deal with FIFA in August 1999, with the advisor position earning him about $300,000 per year.
Prosecutors said that the “gentlemen’s agreement” never took place and that Platini “presented to FIFA in 2011 an allegedly false invoice for a debt still existing for his participation as a FIFA advisor from 1998 to 2002.” However, one of the judges said that the deal was plausible and that the millions paid to Platini by FIFA in 2011 were reasonable given his position as president of UEFA, Europe’s regulatory body.
The payment, which was discovered in a 2015 US Department of Justice investigation into bribery, fraud, and money laundering at FIFA, led to Blatter’s resignation after 17 years as FIFA president. The 86-year-old is still barred from competing in sports and is the focus of a separate Swiss inquiry into additional suspected illegal payments.
Platini, a former French national team player, was in line to succeed Blatter before being expelled from the sport for unethical behavior, a suspension that ended last year. He has always argued that the allegation was intended to prevent him from succeeding Blatter as FIFA president when he retires.
“Following the verdict of the judges of the Court of Bellinzona this morning,” Platini said in a statement, “I wanted to convey my satisfaction to all my loved ones that justice has finally been done after seven years of lies and deceit.” “During this trial, the truth has come to light.”
“I kept telling it: my struggle is a struggle against injustice.” My first game was a success. There are suspects in this case who did not attend the trial. They can depend on me; we’ll meet again. Because I will not give up and will go to any length to get the truth.”
Platini might potentially compete for FIFA president next year in an effort to unseat Gianni Infantino, who took over for Blatter in 2016. Infantino previously worked as UEFA general secretary for six years under Platini. Platini launched a criminal lawsuit in France against his former underling in November, accusing Infantino and other FIFA executives of influence peddling.
“Believe me, moving from being a legend of international soccer to a devil is quite tough,” Platini said in a statement Friday.