Bellinzona (Switzerland) (AFP) – Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini, once the chiefs of world and European football, went on trial in Switzerland on Wednesday over a suspected fraudulent payment.
Former FIFA president Blatter, 86, and Platini, 66, appeared in the 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.
The former French football great “submitted to FIFA in 2011 an allegedly fictitious invoice for a (alleged) debt still existing for his activity as an adviser for FIFA in the years 1998 to 2002,” according to the court.
He and retired Swiss football administrator Blatter could face up to five years in jail.
Both have been 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.
The trial will conclude on June 22, with the three judges expected to deliver their verdict on July 8.
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.
Platini arrived wearing a suit and a blue and white pinstripe shirt before the trial opened at 9:00am (0700 GMT).
– Allies turned rivals –
The judges will have to go through the friendship formed between the defendants, their growing rivalry and then their joint ejection from world football — but also distinguish that from the alleged crimes at the heart of the court case.
The indictment was filed by the Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland (OAG).
Both FIFA and UEFA are headquartered in Switzerland, in Zurich and Nyon respectively.
Platini and Blatter were banned from the sport at the very moment when the former seemed ideally-placed to succeed Blatter at the helm of world football’s governing body.
The two allies became rivals as Platini grew impatient to take over, while Blatter’s tenure was brought to a swift end by a separate 2015 FIFA corruption scandal investigated by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation.
In the Bellinzona trial, 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.
“The compensation agreed in accordance with this contract was invoiced by Platini on each occasion and paid in full by FIFA,” said the OAG.
– Payment ‘without legal basis’ –
However, more than eight years after the end of his advisory role, the former France captain “demanded a payment in the amount of two million francs”, the OAG alleged.
“With Blatter’s involvement, FIFA made a payment to Platini in 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.
As a civil party, FIFA wants to be reimbursed the money paid in 2011 so that it is “returned to the one and only purpose for which it was intended: football”, its lawyer Catherine Hohl-Chirazi told AFP.
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.