JThey were once the two most powerful men in world football, until they were banned by Fifa’s ethics committee in 2015 for a secret payment of two million Swiss francs (£1.65 million sterling at the current exchange rate). Now, after a seven-year investigation, that same payment will lead Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini to finally appear before the Swiss Federal Criminal Court this week, facing charges of fraud, embezzlement and other corruption charges.
Blatter, 86, who has battled health issues, is due to take the stand on the first day of the two-week trial, which begins Wednesday in Bellinzona. Platini will be interviewed on Friday. The trial, which will take place before a panel of three judges, will end on June 22, with a verdict on July 8.
It will certainly make electric theater. But the stakes in the trial of the century of football could not be higher for Blatter or Platini. If found guilty, they could face up to five years in prison and a substantial fine.
At the heart of the case is the infamous ‘unfair’ payment of two million Swiss francs to Platini for consultancy services authorized by Blatter in January 2011, which ended up ending both men’s footballing careers . This payment, according to Swiss prosecutors, “was made without a legal basis” and “illegally enriched Platini”.
Documents released by the court provide further details of the prosecutors’ case. “Joseph S Blatter and Michel François Platini are accused of having illegally obtained a payment of 2 million francs to the detriment of Fifa and social security contributions of 229,126 francs in favor of Platini”, they specify. “Among other things, Platini submitted a presumably fictitious invoice to Fifa in 2011 for a [allegedly] claim still outstanding for his work as a consultant for Fifa between 1998 and 2002. After the signature of the invoice and confirmation by Blatter of the existence of the claim, Fifa settled the corresponding claim [including social security contributions] in favor of Platini.
Blatter, who is charged with fraud, embezzlement, unfaithful business management and forgery, denies the charges. So does Platini, accused of fraud, complicity in embezzlement, embezzlement and complicity in Blatter’s alleged mismanagement.
Blatter said in a statement, “I view the proceedings in federal criminal court with optimism – and hope that with this this story will come to an end and all facts will be dealt with properly.”
In his statement, Platini, a triple Ballon d’Or who guided France to the European Championship in 1984, said: “I fully contest these unfounded and unfair accusations.”
The pair claim they had a verbal agreement for the money to be paid as backdated extra pay for Platini, who worked as a special adviser during Blatter’s first term, from 1998 to 2002. However, Swiss law imposes a five-year deadline for these payments.
Platini also claimed that Blatter told him at the time that Fifa could not afford to pay him, despite the governing body having a total income of 2.7 billion Swiss francs and an overall profit of 115 million. Swiss francs over the period.
The payment also came as Blatter – who fell out with his former protege in 2008 – prepared to campaign for re-election as Fifa president against Mohamed bin Hammam of Qatar, where Platini’s influence with the European voters was seen as a crucial factor. Platini was expected to run in this election, but he ultimately did not run for office.
The trial is the culmination of a case that began in 2015 when Swiss prosecutors opened criminal charges against Blatter before a police raid on Fifa’s headquarters in Zurich.
It led to Blatter stepping down as Fifa president just days after winning a record fifth election and ended Platini’s campaign to succeed his former mentor. They were later suspended and banned from football by Fifa’s ethics committee.
While a wider investigation by US authorities has led to the arrest and conviction of numerous Fifa executives on charges of racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering, this is the first time whether Blatter or Platini face criminal charges.
However, Blatter, who suffered a serious medical condition after undergoing heart surgery in December 2020, also faces separate criminal proceedings related to the authorization of a $1 million payment from Fifa to Trinidad. and Tobago in 2010 under the control of the vice-president of Fifa. , Jack Warner. Two former FIFA officials are also suspects in this investigation.
Blatter remains banned from football. Last year, the adjudicatory chamber of Fifa’s ethics committee extended his ban until 2027 after finding him in breach of rules regarding duty of loyalty, conflict of interest and offering or acceptance of gifts or other benefits. They called his behavior “completely reprehensible”.
Platini, meanwhile, has yet to return to football after his four-year ban ended in 2019 as he fought to clear his name. He claims he is the victim of a plot to deny him the presidency of Fifa and that he paid taxes on the payment of two million Swiss francs after receiving it.
He accused the Swiss prosecutors of collusion with the current president of Fifa, Gianni Infantino, and of a “relentlessness in wanting to involve me unduly in a case where all my good faith had been recognized”. As his lawyer, Dominic Nellen, said: “We are convinced that the outcome of the trial will establish Mr. Michel Platini’s perfect good faith in this affair, which was fabricated to remove him from the presidency of Fifa. “
Those arguments will play out over the dramatic 11 days of a trial that promises to be one of the most high-profile in the long and often sordid history of football politics.