FIFA President Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini, head of European football’s ruling body UEFA, look set to appeal a FIFA ethics court decision to ban them from football for eight years over a suspect CHF2 million ($2 million) payment.
Following the verdict on Monday morning, Blatter told reporters in Zurich that he felt “betrayed” and had been used as a “punch ball”. Blatter intends to appeal the verdict to FIFA’s ethics court and could also take his case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) or an unspecified Swiss legal authority.
Blatter insisted that there was nothing illegitimate about the payment he approved in 2011 - nine years after Platini had concluded his work as his adviser to FIFA. He told reporters that he was “astonished” that the FIFA tribunal did not accept that the work was covered by a “gentlemen’s agreement” in place of a written contract, despite witnesses testifying to that effect.
“There might have been an administrative error, but this was nothing to do with the ethics. This cannot be proven. If it cannot be proven, then I cannot be guilty,” he declared. “I am really sorry that I am a punch ball. I am sorry for football and the association I have served for 40 years. Most of all I am sorry for me.”
But FIFA’s ethics court saw things differently. “Neither in his written statement nor in his personal hearing was Mr Blatter able to demonstrate another legal basis for this payment. His assertion of an oral agreement was determined as not convincing and was rejected by the chamber,” it said in a statement on Monday.
Platini’s assertion of an oral agreement was also rejected as “not convincing”.
Unfair trial claim
The court added that neither Blatter nor Platini, who were already serving a 90 day suspension imposed on October 8, showed “commitment to an ethical attitude”. Their actions were also an “abusive execution” of their positions of president and vice-president of FIFA.
In addition to the bans, Blatter was fined CHF50,000 and Platini CHF80,000. Both have consistently denied any wrongdoing.
Platini issued a statement through his lawyer saying that he was “not surprised” by a verdict that had been taken “months ago”. Unlike Blatter, he had refused to attend the ethics court hearing in Zurich last week, with his lawyers maintaining that he would not get a fair trial.
UEFA hinted that Platini would also appeal the decision, saying it was “extremely disappointed” by the verdict. It added: "Once again, UEFA supports Michel Platini's right to a due process and the opportunity to clear his name."
Unless the verdict is overturned, Platini would have to withdraw his intention of standing as FIFA’s next president from February 26 next year. The eight-year ban, if upheld, would also cast serious doubts about his future career in football administration, which had followed a highly successful international playing career.
On Tuesday, FIFA told Platini he could not go to CAS before he had appealed to the ethics court. Platini has until January 26 to clear his name if he wants to add his name to the candidates standing for the FIFA presidency.
“I’ll be back”
The FIFA ethics commission originally opened its probe into Blatter and Platini following a decision by the Swiss attorney general's office to launch criminal proceedings against Blatter on September 25.
The so-called suspected “disloyal payment” to Platini was part of a larger list of charges the Swiss prosecutor is levelling against the 79-year-old. Blatter told reporters on Monday that the Platini payment had probably been brought to light as an unusual transaction by banks who were cooperating with Swiss prosecutors. Blatter has not been charged with a crime, and denies any wrongdoing.
This in turn follows the opening of criminal probes in both Switzerland and the United States earlier this year. These came to light in May when several football officials were arrested in a Zurich hotel. Some have been extradited to the US and others are awaiting extradition.
United States prosecutors have charged 41 people and entities this year in a probe of football corruption spanning the globe, with federations in the Americas the hardest hit so far. Apart from investigating Blatter, Swiss prosecutors are also probing the awards of the 2018 and 2022 World Cup tournaments to Russia and Qatar.
The corruption allegations prompted FIFA President Sepp Blatter to say he would resign, only days after being re-elected to a fifth term on May 29. On Monday, the outgoing FIFA president said he would continue to fight. “I’ll be back,” he said as the press conference ended.
Click the arrows below to see a history of Blatter and Platini's involvement with FIFA.