Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini acquitted of fraud charges in Swiss court

Sepp Blatter, the former FIFA president, and his former ally Michel Platini were acquitted Friday in the latest attempt by Swiss prosecutors to secure a conviction in a seven-year-long probe into corruption at the top levels of world football.

The lawsuit, which took place in the southern Swiss city of Bellinzona, involved a $2 million settlement arranged in 2011 by Blatter, who has been in charge of world football for 17 years, to Platini, a former French international who was president at the time. a member of European football’s governing body and a potential heir to Blatter as the sport’s most powerful executive.

Prosecutors called the payment a bribe, saying it was made around the time Blatter was running for re-election. Blatter and Platini denied wrongdoing; they claimed for a long time that the money was due to Platini for work done over several years.

Criminal charges of fraud, criminal mismanagement and forgery against the two men were filed after multi-year payment investigationwhich came to light in 2015 after U.S. Justice Department prosecutors uncovered cases of corruption at FIFA spanning at least two decades.

A US investigation led to the arrest and conviction of dozens of influential football officials and marketing managers on charges including racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering conspiracy. Blatter was not among the defendants at the time, and although he had been the subject of various investigations over the years, the Platini payment fraud allegations marked the first time that he had actually faced criminal charges.

The failure to prove the allegations against Blatter and Platini has shed even more light on the failures of the swiss justice system win convictions in cases related to the FIFA scandal. Swiss authorities raided FIFA’s offices with great fanfare in 2015, shortly after the justice ministry released a sweeping indictment outlining decades of corruption in football’s governing body, and Swiss prosecutors claim to have opened dozens of separate investigations into the organization.

However, so far they have only successfully prosecuted one former FIFA official, a banker and head of Greek television. None of these defendants were sentenced to prison.

Platini’s $2 million payment was made when Blatter faced a major challenge as FIFA president from Qatari billionaire Mohamed bin Hammam, who at the time led the Asian football team. Both Blatter and Platini said the money was a belated payment related to the work that Platini, captain of France’s 1984 European Cup winners, did for Blatter after he was first elected FIFA president in 1998.

During the trial, Blatter told the court that the money was part of “gentleman’s agreement“He did this with Platini, who agreed to advise him in exchange for about $1 million a year. The payment of the money will happen “later,” Blatter said of their agreement.

“When Mr. Blatter asked me to be his advisor, he asked me what salary I wanted,” Platini later testified. “I was surprised that he asked me this question and I told him, ‘I want a million.’

Blatter, 86, and Platini, 67, faced up to five years in prison if found guilty.

Both men were eventually suspended by FIFA’s disciplinary system, although their initial bans were later lifted. reduced on appeal. They were due to expire in October, but a new ban imposed on Blatter for other reasons took effect when it ended, meaning he would be sidelined until 2028. when he will be 92.

After the verdict, Platini stated that justice had been done “after seven years of lies and manipulation”.

He previously targeted the current FIFA leadership, led by his former deputy Gianni Infantino. Infantino went from candidate for FIFA president to its leader when Platini first faced allegations in 2015 and after Blatter resigned following Justice Department investigations and arrests.

Platini suggested that he would continue to fight to clear his name; have filed a criminal complaint against Infantino in April. “In this case, there are perpetrators who did not appear at this trial,” he said. “Let them count on me, we will meet again. Because I will not give up and will go to the end in my pursuit of the truth.