BELLINZONA, Switzerland (AP) — Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini were acquitted on charges of defrauding FIFA by a Swiss criminal court on Friday, a rare positive outcome for the pair who were among soccer’s most powerful figures before being embroiled in corruption investigations.
The case was centered 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 the Federal Criminal Court of Switzerland in Bellinzona.
“Following the decision of the judges of the Court of Bellinzona, this morning, I wanted to express my happiness for all my loved ones that justice has finally been done after seven years of lies and manipulation,” Platini said in a statement. “The truth has come to light during this trial.”
“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 meet again. Because I will not give up and I will go all the way in my quest for truth.”
Swiss prosecutor Thomas Hildbrand had requested a 20-month suspended sentence for both Blatter and Platini.
Blatter announced his plan in June 2015 to resign early as president, in the fallout from a sprawling 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 saw the French soccer great removed as president of UEFA, the governing body of European soccer.
“Believe me, going from being a legend of world soccer to a devil is very difficult, especially when it comes to you in a totally unfair way,” Platini added.
Both Blatter and Platini have long denied wrongdoing and claim they had a verbal deal in 1998 for Platini to get extra salary that FIFA could not pay at the time. Platini signed a contract in August 1999 to be paid 300,000 Swiss francs ($300,000) annually.
That defense first failed with judges at the FIFA ethics committee, which banned them from soccer, and later in separate appeals at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
Platini finally got a legal victory in the first criminal case after losses in five civil courts, including at the European Court of Human Rights.
His ban by FIFA for unethical conduct expired in October 2021 and Friday’s verdict should clear the way for Platini to return to work in soccer.
Platini did not identify current FIFA president Gianni Infantino though it seemed clear he was one of the “culprits” referred to.
Infantino was the UEFA general secretary for six years under Platini and won the FIFA presidency in a February 2016 election as an emergency candidate after his boss was implicated in the criminal investigation. Platini has long claimed to be victim of a conspiracy to deny him the FIFA top job and filed a criminal complaint against Infantino and others in France last year.
Infantino faces re-election next March and Platini could yet try to challenge for a job he often described as a destiny for him.
Infantino faces his own legal jeopardy in a separate investigation by Swiss special prosecutors of his undisclosed meetings about the FIFA cases in 2016 and 2017 with former attorney general Michael Lauber.
Now aged 86 and seeming frail at court, Blatter was banned by FIFA ethics judges again last year into 2028 for alleged self-dealing in management bonuses.
He is also a suspect in a separate Swiss criminal proceedings — also led by prosecutor Hildbrand — probing $1 million paid by FIFA in 2010 to the Trinidad and Tobago soccer federation controlled then by now-disgraced soccer official Jack Warner.
Blatter made a financial gain from the Swiss court Friday. He was awarded 20,000 Swiss francs ($20,500) compensation for being morally wronged, the court said.