Former FIFA president Sepp Blatter said he couldn’t testify because of chest symptoms on the first day of his criminal trial.
He is on trial with former France football great Michel Platini, a former protege who was expected to succeed Blatter as president of the sport’s regulatory organisation.
Blatter, once the most influential man in football, is facing criminal accusations in Switzerland for defrauding Fifa.
Platini was also in court, sitting behind Blatter with an interpreter.
“I’m not well. I have these problems that come and go,” Blatter, sitting with his lawyer on a long bench, said in a voice barely louder than a whisper.
The 86-year-old Blatter was due to be questioned on Wednesday but when he was called to the stand about an hour before the court was scheduled to adjourn – following several motions from the defence that were all rejected – he asked instead to respond on Thursday morning, when Platini is also set to be questioned.
“I can’t breathe well. I don’t feel capable at the moment of responding to an interrogation.”
Blatter had earlier left the court for a break – another concession given to him because of his age – walking slowly out and clutching onto the shoulder of his daughter, Corinne Blatter Andenmatten.
“I hope that I’ll feel better tomorrow,” Blatter said. The trial is expected to last 11 days and the court will sit only until lunchtime each day because of Blatter’s health. He was in a coma following heart surgery 18 months ago.
The former FIFA president arrived at the Federal Criminal Court of Switzerland in Bellinzona in a buoyant mood, expressing confidence when asked about his chances. “Absolutely, absolutely, absolutely,” Blatter said. “I feel optimistic, like always. With the beautiful sunshine. It’s the first day of a trial that’s going to last almost two weeks. If I didn’t feel confident the first day that would be bad. I am very confident.”
Blatter’s 17-year reign as FIFA president came to an end in June 2015, when he resigned amid a corruption scandal. A few months later, federal prosecutors in Switzerland revealed their investigation into a US$2m payment from FIFA to Platini from four years earlier. Both Blatter and Platini have long denied wrongdoing and claim they had a verbal deal in 1998 for the money. That defence first failed with judges at the FIFA ethics committee, which banned them from football, and later in separate appeals at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
The fallout from the case also ended Platini’s campaign to succeed his former mentor and saw him removed as president of UEFA, the governing body of European soccer. Platini’s lawyer, Dominic Nellen, tried to get the trial moved to a local court but his request was rejected.
“I now have to defend myself a bit, but I will defend myself well, with a lawyer and that’s it, because I have a clean conscience.” “Is soccer by my side? Soccer is me. It’s been 45 years that I’ve been serving FIFA, international soccer. And it’s my life, it’s my professional life,” Blatter added before going inside.
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