Michel Platini refuses to attend FIFA ethics case hearing

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Posted: Dec 16, 2015 11:33 AM
Michel Platini refuses to attend FIFA ethics case hearing

GENEVA (AP) — Fighting for their careers in soccer politics, Michel Platini plans to boycott his hearing at the FIFA ethics court on Friday while Sepp Blatter is expected to attend his on Thursday.

Platini is protesting the hearing because he believes his case has been pre-judged, his lawyers said Wednesday in a statement.

Although FIFA investigators have asked for a life ban, Platini could escape with a ban of several years — a result that would still effectively exile him and end his FIFA presidential ambitions.

"By this decision Michel Platini means to express his deepest indignation with a process he regards as solely political and intended to prevent him from standing for the FIFA presidency," the former France great's lawyers said.

Less than 90 minutes earlier, FIFA ethics committee judges had promised Platini a fair trial even if he carried out the threat to snub the hearing.

"We would like to clearly stress that the adjudicatory chamber of the ethics committee will deal with the present case in the same way as with any other procedure independently and in an unbiased manner," the ethics panel said in a statement.

The case centers on Platini getting about $2 million from FIFA in 2011 as uncontracted salary for his time working as a presidential adviser for Blatter in 1999-2002.

The agreement was "a classic conflict of interest" between two FIFA executive committee members, FIFA audit panel chairman Domenico Scala told The Associated Press in a recent interview.

Because of the deal, both Blatter and Platini were banned for 90 days on Oct. 8.

Blatter, who also risks a life ban at the ethics hearing, has said he will appear in person on Thursday before the panel of four judges.

"I want to defend myself," Blatter told French daily Liberation in an interview published in its Wednesday edition, noting that recently he has not had the right to enter FIFA headquarters.

Platini's lawyers and Blatter himself have questioned the integrity of the ethics committee during a period of intense legal trouble for scandal-hit FIFA.

The pressure from American and Swiss federal investigations into corruption implicating FIFA forced Blatter to announce his resignation plans in June. Platini was the favorite to succeed his former mentor and is now seeking to clear his name ahead of the Feb. 26 election.

Blatter, who turns 80 in March, appears to want a FIFA swansong by being cleared to host the election congress in Zurich and be made honorary president by the 209 member federations.

Both men were questioned by Swiss federal investigators at FIFA on Sept. 25 about the payment, which emerged in a wider probe of the soccer body's business deals.

Switzerland's attorney general opened proceedings against Blatter for suspected criminal mismanagement of FIFA money, including the Platini payment and selling undervalued World Cup TV rights for the Caribbean to former FIFA vice president Jack Warner.

Platini's status in the criminal case is "between a witness and an accused person," attorney general Michael Lauber said in October.

In 1998, Platini agreed to work for the newly elected Blatter and asked for a salary of 1 million Swiss francs. He got a contract for 300,000 Swiss francs and made a "gentleman's agreement," according to Blatter, to be paid the rest later.

Platini has said he took less because of FIFA's financial situation, and Blatter has said FIFA's wage structure meant his adviser could not be paid more than the secretary general.

Although Swiss law obliged FIFA only to pay the deferred money within five years, Platini reportedly asked for 2 million Swiss francs ($2 million) in 2010.

Platini was paid in February 2011. The timing has raised suspicion, coming only weeks before Mohamed bin Hammam of Qatar challenged Blatter for the FIFA presidency when European votes were key.

The Platini-led UEFA urged its members that May to support Blatter, who was re-elected unopposed when Bin Hammam was implicated in bribing Caribbean voters.

On Thursday, Blatter likely also faces questions about false accounting. The debt to Platini should have been detailed in FIFA's accounts from 2002 until 2011, but was not, Scala told the AP.

Verdicts on Platini and Blatter are expected next Monday or Tuesday. Any sanctions can be challenged at the FIFA appeals committee and then the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

The cases are expected to be resolved by late January, at least one month before the FIFA election on Feb. 26.