ZURICH – Sepp Blatter was back at FIFA headquarters for what could be the last time on Tuesday, challenging his eight-year ban for approving a $2 million payment to Michel Platini in 2011.
Blatter arrived 90 minutes early for the scheduled start of his hearing with the FIFA appeal committee, as punctual as he used to be when arriving for work before being barred from the building last October while under investigation.
Blatter avoided television cameras at the main gate when he left by a rear entrance after a hearing lasting seven hours.
Platini’s session with the four-man appeal panel lasted an hour longer on Monday, when he fought his own eight-year ban imposed by the FIFA ethics committee in December.
They were found guilty of offering or accepting gifts, conflicts of interest and disloyalty to FIFA.
Both men deny wrongdoing, claiming they had a verbal deal for additional salary former France great Platini would get to work as Blatter’s adviser from 1999-2002.
FIFA would not comment on when appeal verdicts are expected.
The stunning case threatens to end the careers of the outgoing FIFA president and his one-time protege, who many expected to succeed him.
Their falls capped a year of turmoil for FIFA. The organization has been rocked by the dual American and Swiss federal investigations of corruption in world soccer which pressured Blatter to announce his resignation plans last June.
Platini appeared to have decisive support already for his presidential bid by September, when Swiss police arrived at FIFA to question both men. FIFA ethics judges suspended them days later, pending a full investigation.
Despite his ban, Blatter has said he expects to attend the FIFA election meeting, where the next president will be chosen, in Zurich as a formal ending to his time at FIFA, which he joined in 1975.
“After 40 years, it can’t happen this way,” Blatter, FIFA’s president for more than 17 years, said in December when pledging to appeal. “I’m fighting to restore my rights.”
FIFA’s appeals body, chaired by Larry Mussenden, a former attorney general of Bermuda, rarely annuls or cuts sanctions by the ethics or disciplinary committees.
Blatter and Platini detailed their legal defense in a series of interviews with media.
Platini said he asked for a salary of 1 million Swiss francs, then around $1 million, when approached in 1998 to work for the newly-elected Blatter.
Blatter said there was a contract for 300,000 Swiss francs, the same as its then-secretary general in line with FIFA’s salary structure, plus a “gentleman’s agreement” to get the rest later.
Swiss law obliged FIFA only to pay the deferred money within five years but Platini, by then UEFA president, reportedly asked for the balance in 2010 and was paid in February 2011.
That timing has raised suspicion as the payment came during a FIFA presidential election campaign in which UEFA later urged its members to support Blatter — who promised them it would be his final term — against Mohamed bin Hammam of Qatar. Blatter won unopposed after Bin Hammam was implicated in bribing Caribbean voters.