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Football: Trial for fallen kingpins Blatter, Platini begins

Swiss-born Blatter resigned days later as head of the organisation he had run since 1998.

Both men were banned from football in December 2015 over the payment scandal, scuttling 66-year-old Platini's chances of becoming Fifa president.

They have previously denied wrongdoing, saying the payment fulfilled a verbal contract between them for services Platini provided to World Cup organiser Fifa from 1998 to 2002.

Before turning to football administration, Platini had a brilliant playing career. He captained the French team that won the 1984 European Championship and was awarded the prestigious Ballon d'Or three times.

The trial comes at an awkward time for Zurich-based Fifa, which is a private plaintiff in the court proceedings.

November's World Cup in Qatar was intended as a festival of international football that would blaze a new trail for the game in the Gulf region. But it has been mired in controversy following allegations that scores of workers died building stadiums and other infrastructure in the dozen years since Qatar was chosen to host the event.

US prosecutors in 2020 issued an indictment against a dozen individuals in which it alleged three were paid bribes in 2010 to vote for Qatar. Platini was questioned in 2019 by French financial police, who have been conducting their own investigation into the allegations.

ZURICH (BLOOMBERG) - The trial of ex-Fifa boss Sepp Blatter and his former heir apparent Michel Platini kicked off at a Swiss court on Wednesday (June 8), with their lawyers contesting the procedural grounds for a corruption case that has revived past scandals ahead of this year's World Cup in Qatar.

The duo, who once sat atop the thrones of global football's top governing bodies, are charged with embezzlement and forgery over a 2 million Swiss franc (S$2.8 million) payment to Platini in 2011, years after he had ceased working as a consultant to Fifa.

Blatter, 86, argued before the trial that the money was "a wage payment that was due" to Platini and "was correctly declared" as such, "billed accordingly and approved by all responsible Fifa authorities".

Platini said in a statement that "we will prove in court that I acted with the utmost honesty, that the payment of the remaining salary was due to me by Fifa and is perfectly legal".

Prosecutors say the belated payout to the legendary French international midfielder, by then the head of the European football federation Uefa, was "made without a legal basis".

They allege the money was not owed to Platini and that he was not entitled to the social security contributions he claimed on it. Blatter's crime, according to prosecutors, was to confirm and approve the invoices.

'No competence'

But right from the start on Wednesday morning, attorneys for both men sought to challenge the procedural grounds underpinning the trial.

Lorenz Erni, Blatter's lawyer, argued that Fifa did not have grounds to bring a case against its former chief as a private plaintiff because no senior-level executives at football's governing body endorsed that status.

Dominic Nellen, Platini's lawyer, then stood up to say this case should be heard by the cantonal court in Zurich, where Fifa is based, and not at the federal criminal court.

"The matter of this so-called 'fake invoice' should have been handled in Zurich," said Nellen.

"It has nothing to do with federal competences and we have the right to be heard at the cantonal court level," he added, urging the court to return the matter to prosecutors to decide where a trial should be held.

Thomas Hildbrand, the federal prosecutor who brought the case, responded by saying there is no reason to dismiss Fifa as a plaintiff and that it would be "absolute nonsense" and just a stalling tactic to return the case to the prosecutors' office.

A lawyer for Fifa said the organisation also rejected both demands made by Blatter and Platini's lawyers, adding that the payment at the heart of the case "was never authorised by Fifa" and only by Blatter himself.

The court will likely rule later on these two issues later on Wednesday before the substance of the trial begins. The trial in the city of Bellinzona bookends a tumultuous decade for Fifa.

In mid-2015, police raided luxury Zurich hotels where its executives had gathered, as part of a coordinated international probe into allegations of racketeering, money laundering and wire fraud.