Is this finally the end of the long soap opera which has one of the legends of French football as its main actor? After seven years of an investigation crossed by suspicions of conspiracy, Michel Platini and the ex-president of Fifa Sepp Blatter appear from Wednesday in Switzerland, in the case of suspicious payment which broke their career in 2015. From the benches of the football pitches to those of the court…
From this Wednesday morning and until June 22, the Federal Criminal Court of Bellinzona will try the 66-year-old Frenchman and the 86-year-old Swiss for “fraud”, “unfair management”, “breach of trust” and ” false in the titles”, before rendering its decision on July 8.
The magistrates will have to navigate between eras, from the birth in 1998 of the Platini-Blatter alliance to their growing rivalry and then their joint ejection from world football, but also to distinguish the purely judicial dimension of the case from its political backdrop.
Become football pariahs
The prosecution accuses the two former leaders of having “illegally obtained, to the detriment of Fifa, a payment of 2 million Swiss francs” (1.8 million euros) “in favor of Michel Platini”.
Both targeted by other procedures, in France for the triple Ballon d’Or (about the awarding of the 2022 World Cup to Qatar) and in Switzerland for Sepp Blatter, they incur five years of imprisonment or a fine.
The two defendants will be able to explain themselves in the affair which made them pariahs of football, at the very moment when Michel Platini, then boss of UEFA and still crowned with his sporting glory, seemed ideally placed to take the head of Fifa after the scandals that had prompted Blatter to resign.
Defense and prosecution agree on one point: the Frenchman advised Sepp Blatter well between 1998 and 2002, during the latter’s first term as head of FIFA, and the two men signed a contract in 1999 agreeing to a annual remuneration of 300,000 Swiss francs, fully paid by Fifa.
But in January 2011, “more than eight years after the end of his activity as an adviser”, the ex-captain of the Blues “claimed a debt of 2 million Swiss francs”, paid by the football authority “with the competition ”by Sepp Blatter, notes the prosecution.
For the prosecution, it is an “unfounded” payment, obtained by “shrewdly misleading” FIFA’s internal controls through false assertions by the two leaders, the key criterion of the scam.
The two men hammer for their part that they had from the outset decided on an annual salary of one million Swiss francs, orally and without witnesses, without the finances of Fifa allowing the immediate payment to Mr. Platini.
“This is a salary balance, owed by FIFA, by oral contract and paid under conditions of the most perfect legality. Nothing else ! I acted, like all my life and all my career, with the greatest honesty, ”assures the Frenchman in statements sent to AFP.
Platini also considers himself the victim of a plot to block his path to the presidency of Fifa and denounces in particular the murky role of the current boss of world football elected in 2016, Gianni Infantino, in the outbreak of the investigation.
Former right-hand man of the French at UEFA, the Italian-Swiss has been targeted since 2020 by a procedure relating to three secret meetings with the former chief of the prosecution, in which a magistrate and the ex-legal director of Fifa come to be charged. The former triple Ballon d’Or also filed a complaint last November with the Paris Public Prosecutor against Infantino for “active influence peddling”.
But the Swiss courts having so far refused to join the two files, the debates should quickly refocus on the reality of the oral agreement of the two defendants: they will have to explain the contradiction with the 1999 contract, the fact that this debt has never been provisioned by Fifa, and the contrast with the usual practices of the body, which has never paid an employee or consultant “without a written basis”, ensured its former HRD in the disciplinary part of the procedure.
Formed as a civil party, Fifa intends to be reimbursed for the salary and social charges paid in 2011, “so that the money embezzled by the defendants for personal purposes is returned to the one and only purpose for which it was intended: football” , told AFP Master Hohl-Chirazi, lawyer for the instance.