Soccer chief Blatter says Platini payment followed 'gentleman's agreement'

·3-min read
Former soccer officials Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini face corruption charges in Swiss trial

(This story refiles to fix typo in final paragraph)

By John Revill

BELLINZONA, Switzerland (Reuters) - Ex-FIFA President Sepp Blatter denied approving fraudulent payments to French football legend Michel Platini, telling a Swiss court on Thursday that a cash transfer followed a "gentleman's agreement" between the pair.

Swiss prosecutors accuse the two men, once among football's most powerful figures, of illegally arranging the 2 million Swiss franc ($2.04 million) payment in 2011. Blatter and Platini both deny the charges.

Blatter gave testimony to the Federal Criminal Court in Bellinzona after being excused on health grounds on Wednesday.

The 86-year-old said he had asked Platini to be his advisor after the Swiss official was elected FIFA president for the first time in 1998.

Platini asked to be paid 1 million francs per year but Blatter told the Frenchman that FIFA could not afford such a salary.

Instead they agreed Platini, one of the greatest players of his generation, would be paid 300,000 francs per year, with the outstanding cash to be paid at a later date.

"I knew when we started with Michel Platini that is not the total, and we would look at it later," Blatter said referring to the agreed 300,000 francs salary for the job of technical consultant.

Sealed with a handshake, Blatter said the arrangement was a so-called "gentleman's agreement".

"It was an agreement between two sportsmen," Blatter said. "I found nothing wrong with that."

Platini signed a written contract with FIFA in 1999, but it specified only a salary of 300,000 francs, with no mention of the extra payments.

The former French national team captain said he trusted Blatter and believed he would be paid in full eventually.

"I trusted the president, and knew he would pay me one day." Platini told the court.

FIFA's fragile financial position in the early 2000s after the collapse of its broadcast partner meant the organisation could not pay immediately when Platini stopped his work as technical advisor in 2002. Blatter described the organisation as "broke."

Platini, who led France to victory in the 1984 European Championship, did not pursue the outstanding debt until 2010, telling the court he did not need the money.

The 66-year-old decided to claim the money after hearing that two former FIFA employees had received substantial payments.

Platini said he contacted FIFA and was informed the organisation did owe him money and should send an invoice. He sent FIFA a claim for 2 million francs in January 2011 and was paid 10 days later after the invoice was approved by Blatter, he said.

The Swiss Office of the Attorney General (OAG) has accused Blatter and Platini of "fraud, in the alternative of misappropriation, in the further alternative of criminal mismanagement as well as of forgery of a document.

Platini, who later became UEFA president, was also charged as an accomplice.

A verdict is due on July 8. If convicted, Platini and Blatter face up to five years in jail.

Both officials were banned in 2016 from soccer for six years over the payment. [L5N2XH0DW]

Platini said the affair was a deliberate attempt to thwart his attempt to become FIFA President in 2015.

"What FIFA did to me was scandalous. And the goal was that I didn't become president of FIFA."

($1 = 0.9785 Swiss francs)

(Reporting by John Revill; Editing by Tomasz Janowski and Toby Chopra)