Former FIFA President Sepp Blatter and Vice President Michel Platini have been found not guilty after their fraud trial in Switzerland.
The pair were on trial over a 2 million Swiss franc (£1.6 million) payment made by Blatter to Platini in 2011.
Both men had denied any wrongdoing and said the transfer was back pay for Platini’s consulting work for FIFA.
Upon arrival in court on Friday, Blatter said: “I am not innocent in my life, but in this case I am innocent.”
Blatter, 86, and former UEFA president Platini, 67, were banned from football in 2015 and indicted last November.
I won a first game – Platini
Following a case that was opened in 2015, his 11-day trial for the 2011 payment took place at the Federal Criminal Court of Bellinzona and concluded on June 22.
“I wanted to express my happiness for all my loved ones because justice has finally been done after seven years of lies and manipulation,” Platini said.
“The truth has come to light during this trial and I am deeply grateful to the judges of the court for the independence of their decision.
“I kept saying it: my fight is a fight against injustice. I won a first game.
“In this case there are culprits who did not appear during this trial. Count on me, we will meet again because I will not give up and I will reach the end in my search for the truth.
Frenchman Platini had an illustrious career as a soccer player and is a three-time Ballon d’Or winner.
He captained France to victory in the 1984 European Championship and won the 1985 European Cup with Juventus.
Platini subsequently went on to coach the French national team and became president of UEFA in 2007.
When his own conduct was investigated by FIFA’s ethics committee as part of a broader attempt to root out corruption from the organisation, he stepped down from the UEFA presidency and was subsequently banned from playing football for eight years, although then it was reduced to four.
His appeal against the sanction was rejected by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (Cas) in 2020.
“Believe me, going from being a world football legend to a devil is very difficult, especially when it comes to you in a totally unfair way,” Platini added.
Swiss businessman and sports administrator Blatter joined FIFA in 1975, became secretary general in 1981 and then president of world soccer’s governing body in 1998.
He remained in the post for 17 years and, following an investigation by FIFA’s ethics committee, received an eight-year ban from football, which was later reduced to six.
In 2021 he received a further six-year suspension after the ethics committee investigated the bonus payments.
Following the verdict, Blatter said: “[I am] calm, definitely, because for seven years I was always under pressure because there was an open judicial process against me.
“Now it’s over, so I’m happy. I’m also happy for international football.
“It’s justice, but it’s a victory for me.”
What happened during the trial?
In his trial testimony, Blatter said he asked Platini to be his adviser when he was first appointed president of world soccer’s governing body in 1998.
He said former France captain Platini wanted 1 million Swiss francs (£816,030) per year, but Blatter told him FIFA couldn’t afford that fee.
Instead, they were set at 300,000 Swiss francs (£244,809) per year, with the outstanding total to be paid at a later date.
“I knew when we started with Michel Platini that it is not the total, and we would see later,” Blatter told the court during the trial, adding that they shook hands on their “gentleman’s agreement.”
He added: “It was an agreement between two athletes. I didn’t find anything wrong with that.”
Platini said: “I trusted the president and I knew that one day he would pay me.”
Platini stopped working for FIFA in 2002 but did not seek payment until 2010, telling the court that he did not need the money at the time of his departure, when, according to Blatter, FIFA was “bankrupt”.
However, Platini later heard that two former employees had received substantial payments and approached FIFA, who said he was told to send an invoice. He did so in January 2011, with the money paid 10 days after Blatter’s approval.
The Swiss Attorney General’s Office charged Blatter and Platini with “fraud, in the alternative of misappropriation, in the further alternative of criminal mismanagement, as well as forgery of a document.”
Platini, who was also charged as an accessory, said he felt the ban was a deliberate attempt to prevent him from becoming FIFA president in 2015.
Timeline: a seven-year investigation
May 2015: Seven FIFA officials arrested on charges of extortion, wire fraud and money laundering. A separate criminal investigation by Swiss authorities into how the 2018 and 2022 World Cups were allocated was also underway.
May 29, 2015: blatter is elected for a fifth term as FIFA president in a vote clouded by arrests and allegations of corruption.
June 2, 2015: Blatter announces that he will resign, but will remain in office until a special congress can choose a new leader.
July 2015: Platini, the president of UEFA, announces his intention to run for president of FIFA.
September 24, 2015: The Swiss attorney general opens criminal proceedings for “disloyal management” and “breach of trust” against Blatter. He is suspected of making “an unfair payment” in 2011 of two million Swiss francs to Platini.
October 8, 2015: FIFA suspends Blatter and Platini for 90 days.
December 21, 2015: FIFA Ethics Committee suspends Blatter and Platini for eight years of all football-related activity.
January 8, 2016: Platini withdraws his candidacy for the presidency of FIFA.
February 24, 2016: The two suspensions are reduced to six years on appeal.
February 26, 2016: UEFA General Secretary Gianni Infantino is elected FIFA president.
May 9, 2016: Platini’s sanction is cut from six to four years by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (Cas).
December 5, 2016: Cas confirms Blatter’s six-year suspension.
June 18, 2019: Platini is arrested in Paris in connection with an investigation into the award of the 2022 World Cup to Qatar. Platini denied any wrongdoing and was released after questioning.
December 11, 2019: FIFA announces that it will take legal action to obtain reimbursement of the two million Swiss francs “unduly” paid to Platini.
March 5, 2020: Platini loses an appeal before the European Court of Human Rights against his four-year sentence.
September 1, 2020: Blatter is questioned by the Swiss attorney general’s office about the payment to Platini.
November 2, 2020: Criminal proceedings in Switzerland opened against Platini and Blatter for “fraud”.
June 22, 2022: The Swiss Federal Criminal Court in the southern city of Bellinzona acquits Blatter and Platini after a trial.