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Blatter and Platini start fraud trial

BELLINZONA, Switzerland: Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini, once the chiefs of world and European football, appeared in a Swiss court on Wednesday to face trial over a suspected fraudulent payment. Former FIFA president Blatter, 86, and Platini, 66, appeared in Switzerland’s Federal Criminal Court in the southern city of Bellinzona, following an investigation that began in 2015 and lasted six years.

The pair are being tried over a two million Swiss franc ($2.08 million) payment in 2011 to Platini, who was then in charge of European football’s governing body UEFA. Both are accused of fraud and forgery of a document. Blatter is accused of misappropriation and criminal mismanagement, while Platini is accused of participating in those offences.

Retired Swiss football administrator Blatter, wearing a three-piece suit and a white shirt, arrived at the court with his daughter Corinne and his lawyer Lorenz Erni. “I am very confident”, Blatter told reporters before going inside, adding that he had a “clear conscience”. Platini arrived wearing a suit and a blue and white pinstripe shirt. The trial will conclude on June 22, with the three judges expected to deliver their verdict on July 8. If convicted, the pair could face up to five years in jail or a fine.

Former FIFA president Sepp Blatter waves to journalists as he leaves the court. – AFP

Infantino ‘conspiracy theory’

In court, before going into the charges levelled at the defendants, Platini’s legal team attempted to widen the scope of the case to bring in a separate investigation into the current FIFA president Gianni Infantino, which has been running since 2020. Before the 2015 fraud investigation launch, Platini had ambitions to take over the FIFA helm. Infantino was appointed in 2016.

“There is a direct link” between the suspicions of fraud against Platini, and several secret meetings between Infantino and the former Swiss attorney general, claimed Platini’s lawyer Dominic Nellen. But prosecutor Thomas Hildbrand dismissed any purported link between the two dossiers, while FIFA lawyer Catherine Hohl-Chirazi branded it a “conspiracy theory” put forward “again and again” to evade the substance of the charges.

The defense and the prosecution agree on one point: Platini was employed as an adviser to Blatter between 1998 and 2002. They signed a contract in 1999 for an annual remuneration of 300,000 Swiss francs. Both FIFA and UEFA are headquartered in Switzerland, in Zurich and Nyon respectively. The Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland (OAG), which brought the indictment, says this amount was invoiced by Platini and paid in full by FIFA. But it is alleged that more than eight years later, Platini submitted a fictitious invoice for money still due for his time as an advisor.

Oral contract claim

The former France captain “demanded a payment in the amount of two million francs”, the OAG alleges. “With Blatter’s involvement, FIFA made a payment to Platini in the said amount at the beginning of 2011. “The evidence gathered by the OAG has corroborated that this payment to Platini was made without a legal basis. “This payment damaged FIFA’s assets and unlawfully enriched Platini,” the federal prosecution alleges.

The men insist that they had, from the outset, orally agreed to an annual salary of one million francs. Joseph “Sepp” Blatter joined FIFA in 1975, became its general secretary in 1981 and the president of world football’s governing body in 1998. He was forced to stand down in 2015 and was banned by FIFA for eight years, later reduced to six, over ethics breaches for authorizing the payment to Platini, allegedly made in his own interests rather than FIFA’s.

Platini is regarded among world football’s greatest-ever players. He won the Ballon d’Or, considered the most prestigious individual award, three times – in 1983, 1984 and 1985. Platini was UEFA’s president from January 2007 to December 2015. He appealed against his initial eight-year suspension at the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which reduced it to four years. – AFP

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