ZURICH (AP) — Michel Platini’s fading chances of becoming FIFA president were tested Friday at an ethics hearing over a payment of about $2 million from Sepp Blatter.
Platini, who could be banned for several years for conflict of interest, refused to attend the hearing at FIFA headquarters in protest. His lawyers have denounced “a process he regards as solely political and intended to prevent him from standing” in the FIFA presidential election on Feb. 26.
Platini’s Paris-based lead lawyer, Thibaud d’Ales, arrived at about 8:15 a.m. Swiss time (0715 GMT) to present his defense to four ethics committee judges, and left 10 hours later.
“Now we are hoping the ethics committee will render the law,” D’Ales told media gathered at FIFA’s front gate after the hearing.
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Platini, the UEFA president, had been favored to succeed Blatter in soccer’s top job until Swiss investigators questioned him in September over suspected criminal mismanagement of FIFA money.
Switzerland’s attorney general, Michael Lauber, opened criminal proceedings against Blatter and said Platini’s status was “between a witness and an accused person.”
Platini and Blatter were subsequently suspended for 90 days by FIFA ethics judge Joachim Eckert. On Thursday, Eckert chaired Blatter’s hearing, which lasted nearly eight hours.
Verdicts in both cases are due Monday morning and bans of at least several years are expected for rules-breaking conflicts of interest. Blatter has called an 11 a.m. (1000 GMT) news conference Monday at the nearby former FIFA headquarters.
Even if Platini is cleared, he faces resistance from UEFA members to stand in the FIFA election.
“We just need someone where there is no doubt,” Martin Glenn, CEO of the English Football Association, said this week. “FIFA and football need to change and need to be seen to be changing, so I think it would be difficult if that accusation was not totally laid to rest and I think it’s quite hard to do that.”
The case centers on Platini getting about $2 million of FIFA money in 2011 as uncontracted salary for working as Blatter’s presidential adviser in 1999-2002.
Platini was a FIFA vice president and executive committee member for eight years when he first asked FIFA in 2010 to settle the debt.
The agreement was “a classic conflict of interest,” FIFA audit panel chairman Domenico Scala told The Associated Press in a recent interview.
“Mr. Platini has asked the president to pay him a prescribed amount, which he should not have asked,” Scala said. “It is their obligation to disclose it to the executive committee that they have such an agreement.”
In media interviews since October, Platini and Blatter said the former France captain asked for a salary of 1 million Swiss francs. He had a contract for 300,000 Swiss francs, in line with FIFA’s then-wage structure, plus a “gentleman’s agreement” to get the rest later. Swiss law obliged FIFA only to pay the deferred money within five years.
Platini told French daily Le Monde he invoiced FIFA for 2 million Swiss francs (about $2 million) in 2011 because he mistakenly recalled that he had been paid 500,000 Swiss francs annually at the time, and not 300,000.
He was paid in February 2011, just before a presidential election campaign. Blatter’s opponent in that election, Mohamed bin Hammam of Qatar, said weeks later he was ready to discuss a power-sharing deal with Platini as a condition of securing European votes.
Led by Platini, UEFA urged its voting members weeks before the June 2011 election to side with Blatter, who was elected unopposed when Bin Hammam was implicated in a bribery scandal.
If the 60-year-old Platini receives a ban of four years, it will likely finish his career in soccer politics. His UEFA mandate expires in March 2019 and a four-year ban would force the sport’s European governing body to elect a new leader rather than appoint an interim replacement.
Tougher integrity checks being introduced by FIFA at the February election congress could bar Platini from seeking any senior position in the future.
On Friday, acting FIFA president Issa Hayatou called on all 209 member federations to “fully support, implement and abide by the new reforms.”
“The future of FIFA and the global development of football depend on our full commitment to embracing a change in culture from top to bottom,” Hayatou wrote in an open letter co-signed by Markus Kattner, FIFA’s acting secretary general.
As finance director, Kattner was involved in signing off on the payment to Platini.
Any sanctions imposed by Eckert’s panel on Monday can by challenged at the FIFA appeals committee and the Court of Arbitration for Sport. Those possible cases should be resolved one month before the FIFA election in Zurich.
Platini did plead his case in person at CAS last week in Lausanne to have his 90-day interim suspension lifted. He lost.