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Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini face 20 months probation in FIFA fraud case

Prosecutors in a fraud case against former FIFA President Sepp Blatter and Vice President Michel Platini demanded on Wednesday that both men be given 20-month suspended sentences.

Blatter and Platini, the former France captain who served as president of UEFA’s European governing body, were sentenced to five years in prison for financial violations, but actual jail time was considered unlikely ahead of their 11-day trial. Verdicts are expected on July 8th.

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The legal danger for the 86-year-old Blatter rose on Wednesday when prosecutors in FIFA’s home city of Zurich confirmed to The Associated Press that they had filed criminal charges against him in a separate complaint filed by the world football organization in 2020.

Blatter and his longtime right-hand man, former FIFA general secretary Jerome Walcke, are now official suspects in an investigation into alleged mismanagement related to the FIFA World Football Museum project in downtown Zurich. The new details were first reported by a Swiss financial news website.

Earlier Wednesday at the Swiss federal criminal court in Bellinzona, prosecutor Thomas Hildbrand also asked the three Platini judges to pay more than 2.2 million Swiss francs ($2.2 million) to FIFA in compensation.

Blatter and Platini deny fraud and lesser allegations related to a FIFA-approved $2 million payment to the French great in 2011. At the time, Platini was UEFA President, FIFA Vice President and is expected to succeed Blatter, likely in 2015.

Platini said in a statement released after the court hearing that he was “calm and confident.”

“Today’s accusation of the prosecutor is devoid of any grounds,” Platini said. “Judicial debate proved that this criminal process had no reason to exist.”

The prosecution argued that FIFA had no legal or contractual basis for paying Platini’s bill for serving as a presidential adviser during Blatter’s first term between 1998 and 2002. FIFA also paid $229,000 in social security taxes in Zurich.

Both have long denied wrongdoing and claim they had a verbal agreement in 1998 for Platini to receive an additional salary that FIFA could not pay at the time. Platini signed a contract in August 1999 for an annual payment of CHF 300,000 (US$300,000).

Their defense had previously failed in the FIFA Ethics Committee, which banned them from football and removed them from office, in the FIFA Appeals Committee, and later in separate appeals before the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Blatter said that FIFA got the money right, while Platini said the allegation came to light in September 2015 to prevent him from running for the FIFA presidency.

In June 2015, Blatter announced his plan to retire early from the presidency due to the fallout from a growing U.S. corruption investigation. A separate but joint case by Swiss prosecutors led to an investigation into the Platini payment.

Blatter and Platini testified last week, and both are expected to make closing statements at the end of the trial on June 22.

Two federal criminal cases and one at the cantonal (state) level are currently ongoing against Blatter, as well as Walcke.

FIFA has asked the Zurich prosecutor’s office to investigate a $140 million building renovation in downtown Zurich for a museum long considered Blatter’s favorite project, which opened in 2016. The unprofitable museum is associated with FIFA’s long-term lease of apartments and offices on the site owned by the insurance company Swiss Life.

Blatter’s lawyers said 18 months ago that the museum’s allegations are “baseless and categorically refuted.”

Federal prosecutors, including Hildbrand, are also investigating a $1 million FIFA loan made in 2010 to the Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation. The suspects are Blatter, Valcke and former FIFA chief financial officer Markus Kuttner, who testified in court on Tuesday about Platini’s payment.

The loan was later canceled and the football money was actually gifted to Jack Warner, then FIFA vice-president, weeks before he became a candidate in the Caribbean general election. Warner then became a government minister.

Valcke is also awaiting a verdict from a federal appeals court in Bellinzona after a retrial in March on charges related to the use of a Qatar-owned villa in Sardinia and broadcast rights to the World Cup. The three defendants include the head of the football and broadcasting company, Nasser al-Khelaifi, and the president of French champions Paris Saint-Germain.

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