BELLINZONA, Switzerland (Reuters) – Former FIFA President Sepp Blatter and France footballing legend Michel Platini were both cleared of corruption charges by a Swiss court on Friday.
Blatter, who led FIFA for 17 years, was cleared of fraud by the Federal Criminal Court in the southern city of Bellinzona.
Platini, a former France national team captain and manager, was also acquitted of fraud.
The two, once among the most powerful figures in global football, had denied the charges against them. On Friday they joked and shook hands before the judgment and looked relieved as the verdict was read out.
Platini described his joy after the acquittal, saying the allegations had turned him from a legend of world football to a “devil”.
“I want 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,” he added. “I kept saying it: my fight is a fight against injustice. I won a first game.”
Prosecutors had accused Blatter, a Swiss who led global football body FIFA for 17 years, and Platini of unlawfully arranging for FIFA to pay the Frenchman two million Swiss francs ($2.06 million) in 2011.
The case meant Blatter ended his reign as FIFA president in disgrace and it wrecked Platini’s hopes of succeeding him after he was banned from football when the affair came to light.
Blatter, 86, had said the two-million franc payment followed a “gentlemen’s agreement” between the pair when he asked Platini to be his technical adviser in 1998.
Platini, 67, worked as a consultant between 1998 and 2002 with an annual salary of 300,000 Swiss francs — the most FIFA could afford because of money troubles the organisation had at the time, Blatter has told the court.
The rest of Platini’s one million per year salary was to be settled at a later date, Blatter said.
The senior judge, Josephine Contu Albrizio, said a verbal agreement between Blatter and Platini seemed credible, as did the Frenchman’s seeing his market value at 1 million per year due to his status in the game.
It also seemed implausible that Platini would have worked only on the basis of written contract that paid him such a paltry sum, the judge told the court.
It was also credible that Platini sought the extra money only in 2010 as he did not need the money immediately.
The payment emerged following a huge investigation launched by the U.S. Department of Justice into bribery, fraud and money-laundering at FIFA in 2015, which triggered Blatter’s resignation.
Both officials were banned in 2015 from football for eight years over the payment, although their bans were later reduced.
Platini, who also lost his job as UEFA president following the ban, said the affair was a deliberate attempt to thwart his attempt to become FIFA president in 2015.
Platini’s former general secretary at UEFA, Gianni Infantino, entered the FIFA race and won the election in 2016.
($1 = 0.9736 Swiss francs)
(Reporting by John Revill; editing by Clare Fallon and Michael Shields and Christian Radnedge)