- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 16, 2016

ZURICH (AP) - 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 9 a.m. (0800 GMT) 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 had 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 a Blatter’s adviser from 1999-2002.

FIFA would not comment on when appeal verdicts are expected. Platini has suggested Thursday or Friday, just one week before the Feb. 26 election when FIFA member federations are scheduled to choose the next president in a five-man contest.

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, rocked by 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 that election meeting 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.”

Blatter and Platini previously said they expect their appeals to FIFA to fail. They have said they would then take their cases to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

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.

FIFA ethics prosecutors have also appealed the eight-year bans, seeking life bans for Blatter and Platini if bribery can be proved.

After his hearing Monday, Platini said most of the discussion focused on the verbal agreement.

Platini’s long-time friend and fellow Frenchman, tournament organizer Jacques Lambert, was at FIFA on Tuesday to give evidence for a second day.

The Platini payment emerged during a wider Swiss federal investigation of FIFA business, including suspected money laundering in the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bidding contests.

Switzerland’s attorney general, Michael Lauber, opened criminal proceedings against Blatter in September for alleged mismanagement and misappropriation of FIFA funds. That case also relates to Blatter signing off undervalued 2010-2014 World Cup broadcast rights for the Caribbean to former FIFA vice president Jack Warner.

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