Disgraced football chiefs Blatter and Platini start trial for fraud

Former world and European football chiefs Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini appeared in a Swiss court on Wednesday to stand trial over an alleged fraudulent payment.

Former FIFA president Blatter, 86, and Platini, 66, appeared before the Federal Criminal Court in the southern city of Bellinzona, following an investigation that began in 2015 and lasted six years.

Both men are on trial over a payment of two million Swiss francs ($2.08 million) in 2011 to Platini, who was then in charge of European football’s governing body UEFA.

Both are accused of fraud and forgery. Blatter is charged with embezzlement and criminal mismanagement, while Platini is charged with participating in these offences.

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

“I’m very confident,” Blatter told reporters before going inside, adding that he had a “good conscience.”

Platini arrived wearing a blue and white striped suit and shirt.

The trial will end on June 22 and the three judges are expected to deliver their verdict on July 8.

If convicted, both men face up to five years in prison or a fine.

– Infantino “conspiracy theory” –

In court, before addressing the charges against the defendants, Platini’s legal team attempted to broaden the scope of the case to open a separate investigation into current FIFA President Gianni Infantino, who is in operation since 2020.

Prior to the launch of the fraud investigation in 2015, Platini had ambitions to take charge of FIFA. Infantino was appointed in 2016.

“There is a direct link” between suspicions of fraud against Platini, and several secret meetings between Infantino and the former Swiss attorney general, said Platini’s lawyer, Dominic Nellen.

But prosecutor Thomas Hildbrand dismissed any alleged link between the two cases, while FIFA lawyer Catherine Hohl-Chirazi called 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.

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

The Public Ministry of the Confederation (MPC), which filed the indictment, claims that 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 owed for his time as an adviser.

– Oral contractual complaint –

The former captain of the France team “demanded a payment of two million francs”, alleges the MPC.

“With Blatter’s involvement, FIFA made a payment to Platini of said amount in early 2011.

“The evidence collected by the MPC has corroborated that this payment to Platini was made without a legal basis.

“This payment damaged the assets of FIFA and illegally enriched Platini”, alleges the federal prosecutor’s office.

The men insist that they had, from the outset, agreed orally on an annual salary of one million francs.

Joseph “Sepp” Blatter joined FIFA in 1975, became its general secretary in 1981 and president of world football’s governing body in 1998.

He was forced to retire in 2015 and was banned by FIFA for eight years, then reduced to six years, for ethical breaches for authorizing the payment to Platini, allegedly made for his own interest rather than that of of FIFA.

Platini is considered one of the greatest players in world football. He won the Ballon d’Or, considered the most prestigious individual award, three times, in 1983, 1984 and 1985.

Platini served as UEFA President from January 2007 to December 2015.

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