BELLINZONE, Switzerland (AP) — Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini firmly reiterated their innocence as the two former soccer executives were questioned on the second day of their criminal trial accused of fraud at FIFA.
Blatter was due to testify on opening day on Wednesday, but the former FIFA president said he was bothered by chest pains and asked to respond the following morning.
“I feel much better, thank you,” Blatter, 86, said at the start of Thursday’s hearing at the Federal Criminal Court in Bellinzona.
Blatter’s 17-year reign as president ended in June 2015, when he stepped down amid a corruption scandal. A few months later, federal prosecutors in Switzerland revealed their investigation into a $2 million FIFA payment to Platini four years earlier.
The fallout from the affair also ended Platini’s campaign to succeed his former mentor and removed the French footballing great from the UEFA presidency.
Both have always denied wrongdoing and also long questioned how the disputed payment came to light, airing unproven claims from prosecutors meeting a whistleblower on a park bench.
This was strongly refuted by Thursday’s final witness, former federal prosecutor Olivier Thormann, as he gave widely expected testimony.
Blatter and Platini claim to have reached a verbal agreement in 1998 for the latter to receive 1 million Swiss francs ($1.02 million) to serve as an adviser to Blatter if elected FIFA president. This defense failed first with the judges of the FIFA Ethics Committee, which banned them from football, and later in separate appeals before the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
Platini’s contract with FIFA, signed in August 1999, was for 300,000 Swiss francs ($312,000) per year and backdated to January. It is claimed that Blatter said he would only pay the same amount as FIFA’s general secretary at the time, and promised the balance later.
“In the verbal contract, we did not determine the date when he would get it, it was a contract between men, and we started working immediately. I didn’t give him a specific time when he would get it,” Blatter said.
“When I was elected FIFA President we had a bad balance… at the time I had no idea (when the payment would be made), I just had this man with me and he was worth what million but I didn’t know when and how he would get it.
Platini supported Blatter’s comments in his testimony and claimed he should have been paid more, but miscalculated the gap between the amount he was promised and his salary during his four years in the role of advise.
“I made a mistake. I was convinced that the salary was 500,000 (Swiss francs) and I realized that when the prosecutor showed me the contract. But FIFA knew that they had cheated,” Platini said.
The 66-year-old Platini was asked why he waited until 2011 to send FIFA an invoice for the money allegedly owed. The bill came shortly after FIFA paid seven-figure compensation to Jerome Champagne, a former French diplomat who was ousted as Blatter’s aide.
“I trusted the president and I knew that one day or another he would pay me. I wouldn’t make a deal with the president without trusting him,” Platini said. “It was not vital for me this money. What was vital was the word of the FIFA President.
” I have principles. I’m not going to ask for money from someone who owes me. Just that one day I heard that FIFA had made two large payments to departing employees and at that time I thought it would be nice if they remembered that they owed me money. silver.
The trial is scheduled to last 11 days and the three federal judges hearing the case are due to deliver their verdict on July 8. Blatter and Platini each face up to five years in prison, but suspended sentences are a likely option.
“I was in shock (when we were first interviewed) and that shock lasted for seven years. It’s still there,” Blatter said. “I’ve already been punished for seven years. seemed like an eternity.
“That’s why I’m glad we’re in court now, to learn the truth about what happened. I’m glad we’re here and it’s finally over.
Blatter and Platini declined to answer questions from FIFA lawyer Catherine Hohl-Chirazi.
“What FIFA did to the FIFA President and to me is outrageous, they made us look like cheaters, fraudsters, money launderers,” Platini said. “Just so I don’t become president.
“It’s not easy when you are known around the world to be criticized around the world, especially when you have children and grandchildren… I hope there will be justice one day.”
Criminal proceedings were opened against Blatter in September 2015 and it was years later, after Thormann quit the prosecution team, that Platini was targeted.
Platini’s lawyer, Dominic Nellen, tried to show the court that the prosecutor’s office colluded with football officials, and that it helped Gianni Infantino become FIFA president in 2016. FIFA over the $2 million payment led to Platini being banned in 2015 and barred from the race to succeed Blatter.
However, Thormann said information about Platini’s payment was obtained in May 2015 from FIFA chief financial officer Markus Kattner. Swiss authorities had seized documents and data from the FIFA offices in Zurich as part of their wider investigation at the same time as US federal agents conducted their own investigation into corruption in international football.
The documents detailed payments from FIFA to all members of its executive committee, including Platini.
“We received an alert and we opened a case,” Thormann told the court, dismissing any notion of intrigue or conspiracy.
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