Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini have been acquitted of fraud charges in a Swiss court.
The pair had been brought to trial over “suspicions of fraud, disloyal management, breach of trust and forgery” relating to a payment of two million Swiss francs (£1.7m) made to Platini in 2011.
At the time, Blatter was president of world football’s governing body FIFA, while Platini was head of European body UEFA and also a FIFA vice president.
The payment was made to the Frenchman for “consultancy services” but subsequent controversy over the arrangement saw both men banned from football by a FIFA ethics committee. The pair had unsuccessfully appealed against their bans ath the court of arbitration for sport.
Prosecutors brought charges against Platini and Blatter last November following a six-year investigation, alleging the payment from FIFA, authorised by Blatter, had been “made without legal basis”.
The judge in the trial in Bellinzona found them not guilty and ordered that Platini be given the money back.
A written judgement published by the court stated: “After examining and evaluating all evidence and circumstantial evidence as well as hearing various witnesses in the main hearing, the criminal court came to the conclusion that the result of the evidence supports the version of the accused (Blatter and Platini).
“The facts of the indictment cannot therefore be considered to have been created with a probability bordering on certainty.”
“My client’s full acquittal is the only correct outcome of these criminal proceedings,” Platini’s lawyer Dominic Nellen said in a statement.
“The court has properly assessed the evidence and finally put an end to this unspeakable criminal proceeding.
“A neutral court has finally found that no wrongdoing was committed in this case. My client is completely cleared and relieved accordingly.”
Platini said: “I wanted to express my happiness for all my loved ones that justice has finally been done after seven years of lies and manipulation.
“The truth has come to light during this trial and I deeply thank the judges of the tribunal for the independence of their decision.
“I kept saying it – my fight is a fight against injustice. I won a first game. In this case, there are culprits who did not appear during this trial. Let them count on me, we will meet again. Because I will not give up and I will go all the way in my quest for truth.
“Despite the length of the procedure, I have always had confidence in the Swiss legal system and the rule of law that prevails here.
“Believe me, going from being a legend of world soccer to a devil is very difficult, especially when it comes to you in a totally unfair way.
“But before I think about the future, I would like to thank my family and my close friends, my lawyers who have so brilliantly assisted and encouraged me throughout my ordeal, and above all all the people I have met during all these years for their affectionate looks and their gestures so strongly marked by support and sympathy towards me.”