BELLINZONA, Switzerland –
Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini were acquitted of FIFA cheating charges by a Swiss criminal court on Friday, a rare positive result for the pair, who were among football’s most powerful figures before becoming embroiled in corruption investigations.
The case revolved around a $2 million payment from FIFA to Platini, with Blatter’s approval, in 2011 for work done a decade earlier. The verdict followed an 11-day trial last month at Switzerland’s Federal Criminal Court in Bellinzona.
“First of all I have to say I’m very happy man,” Blatter, 86, told reporters on the courthouse steps. “I’m a happy man because today I also have to thank the court, this city, the people in the court for how they analyzed the situation and explained why we both didn’t do anything. “
Swiss prosecutor Thomas Hildbrand had requested a 20-month suspended sentence for both Blatter and Platini. Instead, both were acquitted and awarded a sum for costs at trial, while Blatter also received 20,000 Swiss francs ($20,500) in moral wrongdoing, the court said.
Blatter and Platini sat silently with their lawyers at separate tables during the sentencing hearing. There was later a burst of applause from the small public audience as, after a brief exchange and a lopsided smile, both men exited the courtroom.
“Following the verdict of the judges of the Court of Bellinzona this morning, I wanted to express my joy to all my loved ones that after seven years of lies and manipulation, justice has finally been done,” Platini said. “During this process, the truth came out.”
“I’ve said it again and again: My fight is a fight against injustice. I won a first game. In this case, there are perpetrators who did not appear during this process. Make them count on me, we’ll meet again. Because I won’t give up and I’ll go all the way in my quest for the truth.”
In June 2015, Blatter announced his plan to resign early as president amid the fallout from a wide-ranging American corruption investigation. Less than four months later, a separate but cooperating case by Swiss prosecutors led to the Platini payment being investigated.
The fallout removed Blatter from office but also ended Platini’s campaign to succeed his former mentor and resulted in the French football star being ousted as president of UEFA, the governing body of European football.
“Believe me, it’s very difficult to go from a legend of world football to a devil, especially when it comes to you in a totally unfair way,” Platini added.
Both Blatter and Platini have long denied wrongdoing, claiming they reached a verbal agreement in 1998 whereby Platini was to receive an additional salary that FIFA was unable to pay at the time. Platini signed a contract in August 1999 for an annual payment of 300,000 Swiss francs (US$300,000).
This defense failed first with judges from the FIFA Ethics Committee who issued a football ban and later with separate appeals to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
Platini has finally won a legal victory in the first criminal case after defeats in five civil courts, including the European Court of Human Rights.
His ban from FIFA for unethical behavior expired in October 2021 and Friday’s ruling should pave the way for Platini to return to work in football.
“I dont know. I’m so young, I still have time ahead of me,” said the 67-year-old Platini when asked if his time in football was over.
Platini has not identified current FIFA President Gianni Infantino, although it seemed clear that he was one of the “culprits” named.
Infantino was UEFA general secretary for six years under Platini and won the FIFA presidency in a February 2016 election as a fallback after his boss became involved in the criminal investigation. Platini has long claimed he was the victim of a conspiracy to deny him the top FIFA job and filed criminal charges against Infantino and others in France last year.
Infantino faces re-election next March and Platini may still be trying to compete for a job he has often said is destiny for him. However, when asked if he would run for the presidency, he laughed out loud.
Infantino faces his own legal danger in a separate investigation by Swiss special prosecutors over his undisclosed meetings on the FIFA cases in 2016 and 2017 with former Attorney General Michael Lauber.
Blatter, who appeared frail in court, was again banned until 2028 by FIFA’s ethics judges last year for alleged self-dealing with management bonuses.
He is also a suspect in a separate Swiss criminal case – also led by prosecutor Hildbrand – over $1 million paid by FIFA in 2010 to the Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation, which was then managed by the football official Jack Warner, who has since fallen from grace.
AP sportswriter Graham Dunbar in Geneva contributed to this report