Former FIFA president Sepp Blatter indicted for fraud

GENEVA – Former FIFA officials Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini were charged Tuesday with fraud and other offenses by Swiss prosecutors after a six-year investigation into a controversial $ 2 million payment.

Blatter, 85, and Platini, 66, are now facing trial in Federal Criminal Court in Bellinzona. They could be jailed for several years if found guilty, although Swiss cases often take years to complete.

“This payment damaged FIFA’s assets and illegally enriched Platini,” Swiss federal prosecutors said in a statement.

The case was opened in September 2015 and ousted Blatter earlier than expected as FIFA president. It also ended Platini’s campaign to succeed his former mentor.

It focuses on Platini’s written request to FIFA in January 2011 to receive an additional backdated salary for working as a presidential adviser during Blatter’s first term, from 1998 to 2002.

Blatter told FIFA to make the payment within weeks. He was preparing to campaign for re-election in a contest against Mohamed bin Hammam of Qatar, where Platini’s influence with European voters was seen as a key factor.

“Evidence gathered by the (attorney general’s office) corroborated that this payment to Platini was made without a legal basis,” prosecutors said.

Blatter and Platini have long denied wrongdoing and cited a verbal agreement they made, more than 20 years ago, for the money to be paid.

Blatter has been charged with fraud, mismanagement, embezzlement of FIFA funds and document forgery. Platini has been charged with fraud, embezzlement, forgery and aiding and abetting Blatter’s alleged mismanagement.

Charges of fraud and forgery can be punished with prison terms of up to five years.

“I view the proceedings in federal criminal court with optimism – and I hope that with this this story ends and all the facts are properly examined,” Blatter said in a statement.

Platini, was only formally investigated last year, and months later the most serious fraud allegation was brought against the two men.

The three-time Ballon d’Or winner, who captained his national team when France won the European Championship in 1984, said on Tuesday he was “perfectly confident and calm” about the result.

“I fully challenge these unfounded and unfair accusations,” Platini said in a statement.

Platini has long said, and Blatter repeated it on Tuesday, that he declared the payment and paid taxes on it in Switzerland.

Prosecutors had opened criminal proceedings against Blatter ahead of a police raid on FIFA headquarters in Zurich on the day he and Platini attended a meeting of the football body’s executive committee.

It came four months after a major US Department of Justice investigation into corruption in world football came to light with early morning arrests of officials from the Americas at luxury hotels in Zurich in May 2015.

Following the hotel raids, and just days after being elected FIFA president for the fifth time, Blatter announced his intention to step down and ask for another vote to find a successor.

Platini had long been the awaited heir to FIFA, but his campaign was derailed by a police visit to FIFA offices even though he was not yet a suspect.

The FIFA ethics committee quickly suspended the two men for several weeks before banning them each for six years.

Platini’s ban was later reduced to four years by the Court of Arbitration for Sport on appeal, and he was allowed to resume his football duties in October 2019. He had been linked with the search for a seat on the Council of administration of FIFPRO, the global group of football unions.

Blatter was in poor health and a final round of questioning by Swiss investigators was delayed until August.

After undergoing heart surgery last December, Blatter spent a week in an induced coma.

Blatter also faces separate criminal proceedings relating to the authorization of a payment of $ 1 million from FIFA to Trinidad and Tobago in 2010 under the supervision of FIFA Vice President Jack Warner. Two former FIFA officials are also suspects in this investigation.