Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini have been acquitted on charges of defrauding FIFA, a rare positive outcome for the pair who were among football’s most powerful figures before being embroiled in probes.
Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini, once the chiefs of world and European football, have been cleared over a suspected fraudulent payment that shook the sport and torpedoed their time at the top.
Switzerland's Federal Criminal Court in the southern city of Bellinzona acquitted the pair on Friday, in a trial following a mammoth investigation that began in 2015 and lasted six years.
Former FIFA president Blatter, 86, and Platini, 67, listened in silence as the clerk read out the judgment that rejected the prosecution's request for a suspended prison sentence of a year and eight months.
"A neutral court has finally found that no offence has been committed in this case. My client is completely cleared and relieved as a result," said Platini's lawyer Dominic Nellen.
Former French football great Platini released a short statement claiming to have "won the first round", while alluding to alleged political and judicial manipulation intended to remove him from power.
"In this case, there are culprits who did not appear during this trial. Let them count on me: we will find one other," he said.
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Platini was employed as an adviser to Blatter between 1998 and 2002.
Blatter told the court that when he took over as FIFA president in 1998, world football's governing body had a bad record and he thought someone who had been a top figure in playing the game could help.
He turned to Platini for advice, which involved political trips, reforming the international calendar and helping the national federations financially. They signed a contract in 1999 for an annual remuneration of 300,000 Swiss francs, which was paid in full by FIFA.
But the pair were tried over a two million Swiss franc ($2.05 million) payment in 2011 to Platini, who was then in charge of European football's governing body UEFA.
Platini was accused of having submitted to FIFA in 2011 an allegedly fictitious invoice for a claimed debt still outstanding for his advisory work.
Both were accused of fraud and forgery of a document. Blatter was accused of misappropriation and criminal mismanagement, while Platini was accused of participating in those offences. They maintained innocence throughout their trial, which ran from June 8 to 22.
But the court considered that the fraud was "not established with a likelihood bordering on certainty", and therefore applied the general principle of criminal law according to which "the doubt must benefit the accused".
The indictment was filed by the Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland. Both FIFA and UEFA are headquartered in Switzerland, in Zurich and Nyon respectively.
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