Former Fifa president Sepp Blatter and vice-president Michel Platini have both been found not guilty following their trial for fraud in Switzerland.
The pair went on trial over a 2m Swiss franc (£1.6m) payment made by Blatter to Platini in 2011.
Both men had denied any wrongdoing and said the transfer was late payment for Platini’s consultancy work for Fifa.
Arriving in court on Friday, Blatter said, “I’m not innocent in my life but in this case, I’m innocent.”
Blatter, 86, and former UEFA president Platini, 67, were banned from football in 2015 and indicted last November.
I won a first game – Platini
Following a case opened in 2015, their 11-day trial over the 2011 payment took place at the Federal Criminal Court in Bellinzona and ended on June 22.
“I wanted to express my joy for all my loved ones that justice is finally done after seven years of lies and manipulation,” Platini said.
“The truth has come to light during this trial and I sincerely thank the judges of the court for the independence of their decision.
“I kept saying it – my fight is a fight against injustice. I won a first game.
“In this case, there are culprits who did not appear during this trial. Let them count on me, we will see each other again because I will not give up and I will go to the end in my quest for the truth. “
Frenchman Platini has had an illustrious career as a football player and is a three-time Ballon d’Or winner.
He captained France to victory in the 1984 European Championship and won the 1985 European Cup with Juventus.
Platini went on to coach the France national team and became UEFA president in 2007.
When his own conduct was investigated by Fifa’s ethics committee as part of a wider attempt to root out corruption from the organization, he resigned as FIFA president. UEFA and was subsequently banned from football for eight years, although this was later reduced to four.
His appeal against the ban was dismissed by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (Cas) in 2020.
“Believe me, going from world football legend to devil is very difficult, especially when it affects you in a totally unfair way,” Platini added.
Swiss businessman and sports administrator Blatter joined FIFA in 1975, became general secretary in 1981 and then president of world football’s governing body in 1998.
He remained in the role for 17 years and, following an investigation by Fifa’s ethics committee, received an eight-year football ban – later reduced to six.
In 2021, he received a further six-year ban after the ethics committee investigated the bounty payments.
After the verdict, Blatter said: “[I am] relaxed, definitely, because for seven years I was always under pressure because there was an open trial against me.
“Now it’s over, so I’m happy. I’m also happy for international football.
“It’s justice, but it’s a victory for me.”
In 2015, US prosecutors charged several senior FIFA officials with corruption following a major FBI investigation.
The charges were brought after a dramatic raid on a luxury hotel in Zurich and the arrest of seven Fifa executives.
Blatter then resigned as Fifa president and Platini himself became embroiled in the investigation and withdrew his candidacy for the job.
Fifa also suspended later former Fifa secretary general Jerome Valcke from any football-related activity after allegations of misconduct over World Cup ticket sales and TV deals.
His 12-year ban was later reduced to 10 in a decision that was upheld by Cas.
What happened during the trial?
In his testimony at the trial, Blatter said he asked Platini to be his adviser when he was first appointed president of football’s world governing body in 1998.
He said former France captain Platini wanted 1m Swiss francs (£816,030) a year but Blatter told him Fifa could not afford the fee.
Instead, they opted for 300,000 Swiss francs (£244,809) a year, with the total remaining to be paid at a later date.
“I knew when we started with Michel Platini that it wasn’t the total, and we would see that later,” Blatter had told the court during the trial, adding that they shook hands over their “gentleman’s consent”.
He added: “It was an agreement between two sportsmen. I didn’t find anything wrong with that.”
Platini said, “I trusted the president and I knew he would pay me one day.”
Platini quit working for Fifa in 2002 but did not pursue payment until 2010, telling the court that he had not needed the money when he left, when – according to Blatter – Fifa was “broken” anyway.
However, Platini later learned that two former employees had received substantial payments and contacted Fifa, who he said told him to send an invoice. He did so in January 2011, with the money disbursed 10 days later after Blatter’s approval.
The Swiss public prosecutor’s office charged Blatter and Platini with “fraud, in the alternative of embezzlement, in the additional alternative of criminal mismanagement as well as falsification of a document”.
Platini, who has also been charged with complicity, said he believes the ban was a deliberate attempt to prevent him from becoming Fifa president in 2015.
A written judgment released by the court said: “After reviewing and evaluating all the evidence and circumstantial evidence as well as the hearing of various witnesses during the main hearing, the criminal court has come to the conclusion that the result of the evidence supports the accused’s version. [Blatter and Platini].
“The facts of the indictment therefore cannot be considered to have been created with a probability close to certainty.”
Fifa said it “takes note of the verdict” and “will await the full reasoned judgment before commenting further”.
Timeline – a seven-year investigation
May 2015: Seven FIFA officials arrested for racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering. A separate criminal investigation by Swiss authorities into the allocation of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups was also underway.
May 29, 2015: Blatter is elected for a fifth term as FIFA President in a vote overshadowed by arrests and corruption allegations.
June 2, 2015: Blatter announces that he will step down, but remain in office until a special congress can choose a new leader.
July 2015: Platini, the president of Uefa, announces his intention to run for the presidency of Fifa.
September 24, 2015: The Attorney General of Switzerland is opening criminal proceedings for “unfair management” and “breach of trust” against Blatter. He is suspected of having made “an unfair payment” in 2011 of two million Swiss francs to Platini.
October 8, 2015: Fifa suspends Blatter and Platini for 90 days.
December 21, 2015: FIFA Ethics Committee suspends Blatter and Platini for eight years of any football-related activity.
January 8, 2016: Platini withdraws his candidacy for the presidency of Fifa.
February 24, 2016: Both suspensions are reduced to six years on appeal.
February 26, 2016: Gianni Infantino, secretary general of Uefa, is elected president of Fifa.
May 9, 2016: Platini’s ban is reduced from six to four years by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (Cas).
December 5, 2016: Blatter’s six-year suspension is upheld by Cas.
June 18, 2019: Platini is arrested in Paris as part of an investigation into the awarding of the 2022 World Cup to Qatar. Platini denied any wrongdoing and was released after questioning.
December 11, 2019: Fifa announces it is taking legal action obtain the reimbursement of the two million Swiss francs paid “unduly” to Platini.
March 5, 2020: Platini loses appeal to European Court of Human Rights against his four-year ban.
September 1, 2020: Blatter is questioned by the Swiss attorney general’s office about the payment to Platini.
November 2, 2020: Criminal proceedings in Switzerland have been opened against Platini and Blatter for “fraud”.
June 22, 2022: The Federal Criminal Court in the southern city of Bellinzona acquits Blatter and Platini after a trial.