GENEVA (AP) — Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini’s 11-day trial on charges of defrauding FIFA starts Wednesday — finally bringing the epic downfall of soccer’s former world leaders into criminal court.
The fallout from the case ousted Blatter ahead of schedule as president of FIFA and ended Platini’s campaign to succeed his former mentor. It also removed Platini as president of UEFA, the governing body of European soccer.
In 2015, federal prosecutors in Switzerland revealed their investigation into a $2 million payment from FIFA to Platini from four years earlier. The pair will go on trial in Bellinzona.
The subsidiary charges include forgery of the invoice in 2011 that allowed Blatter to authorize FIFA to pay the 2 million Swiss francs (about $2 million) Platini had asked for. The claim was for the former France soccer great to be paid extra money for being an advisor — without having a contract for it — in Blatter’s first presidential term from 1998-2002.
Both have long denied wrongdoing and claim they had a verbal deal in 1998. 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.
Now the case comes to a criminal court which will sit only until lunchtime each day because of the 86-year-old Blatter’s health, 18 months after he was in a coma following heart surgery.
Blatter is due to be questioned Wednesday and Platini one day later. Both are expected to give closing statements on June 22, when the trial ends.
The three federal judges hearing the case are scheduled to deliver their verdict on July 8. Blatter and Platini each face of up to five years in prison, but suspended sentences are a likely option.
Blatter said in a statement everything was accounted for properly and he is optimistic about his chances at the trial. Platini denounced what he called “unfounded and unfair accusations.” He has claimed the allegations were fed to prosecutors in a plot to stop him from becoming FIFA president.