June 10 – Having been too ill to stake the stand on Wednesday in his trial for fraud, former FIFA president Sepp Blatter was well enough to face his accusers in the Swiss court in Bellinzona yesterday (Thursday) and denied that a CHF2 million payment to Michel Platini was fraudulent.
Swiss prosecutors say the payment made in 2011 was an illegal payment and have charged Blatter and Platini with misappropriation of money, criminal mismanagement as well as of forgery of a document.
Blatter and Platini claim there was nothing illegal about the payment but that it was the fulfilment of a “gentleman’s agreement” made between them when Platini agreed to become Blatter’s advisor after the 1998 World Cup in France.
Blatter was elected to his first term as FIFA president after France 98 and quickly turned to Platini for support.
Platini had asked for a salary of CHF1 million a year but Blatter told him that FIFA could not afford that amount, particularly with the impending collapse of FIFA’s broadcast rights partner Kirch Group.
They settled on a CHF300,000 annual salary with Platini taking the role of technical consultant. However, they both maintain that the balance was to be made up at a later date. No mention of that balance was in the contract signed by Platini in 1999. Platini left his role with FIFA in 2002.
Referring to the salary, Blatter said in court: “I knew when we started with Michel Platini that is not the total, and we would look at it later.”
Blatter said that he had always expected to have to settle the balance saying: “It was an agreement between two sportsmen. I found nothing wrong with that.”
Platini said that he had not claimed the balance because he had not needed the money but decided to make his claim when he learned that other FIFA employees had been awarded substantial payments.
Of the agreement with Blatter, he told the court: “I trusted the president, and knew he would pay me one day.”
Platini maintains that this case and its prominence several years after FIFA made the payment to him plays into a bigger picture of removing him from the candidacy for FIFA president in 2015. The investigation into the alleged illegal payment was started before that election and Platini was forced to step back from his candidacy while his subordinate, Gianni Infantino, became UEFA’s candidate for the FIFA post.
Infantino maintained that he was only running as a ‘place-holder’ for Platini. However, Platini and Blatter were banned in 2016 from football for six years over the payment. Those bans were later reduced and Platini has now served his exclusion from football.
“What FIFA did to me was scandalous. And the goal was that I didn’t become president of FIFA,” said Platini.
The trial is expected to continue for a further nine days with the judges expected to deliver a verdict on 8 July. Blatter and Platini face up to five years in jail if found guilty plus a financial penalty.
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