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CRIME

Swiss court acquits FIFA and UEFA supremos on corruption charges

Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini, once the chiefs of world and European football, were acquitted Friday over a suspected fraudulent payment that shook the sport and torpedoed their time at the top.

Swiss court acquits FIFA and UEFA supremos on corruption charges
Former president of World football's governing body FIFA, Sepp Blatter, leaves the building of the Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland with his lawyer (unseen) to attend a hearing in Zurich, on August 9 2021. (Photo by SEBASTIEN BOZON / AFP)

Switzerland’s Federal Criminal Court in the southern city of Bellinzona rejected the prosecution’s request for a suspended prison sentence of a year and eight months, following a mammoth investigation that began in 2015 and lasted six years.

Former FIFA president Blatter, 86, and Platini, 67, were tried over a two million Swiss franc ($2.05 million) payment in 2011 to Platini, who was then in charge of European football’s governing body UEFA.

The former French football great “submitted to FIFA in 2011 an allegedly fictitious invoice for a (alleged) debt still existing for his activity as an adviser for FIFA in the years 1998 to 2002”, according to the court.

Blatter insisted before the court that the pair had struck a oral “gentlemen’s agreement”, with some of Platini’s remuneration to be paid at a later date when FIFA’s fragile finances would allow it.

Both were accused of fraud and forgery of a document. Blatter was accused of misappropriation and criminal mismanagement, while Platini was accused of participating in those offences.

Blatter and Platini maintained their innocence throughout their trial, which ran from June 8 to 22. The indictment was filed by the Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland.

Both FIFA and UEFA are headquartered in Switzerland, in Zurich and Nyon respectively.

Power drama

Platini and Blatter were banned from the sport at the very moment when the former seemed ideally-placed to succeed Blatter at the helm of world football’s governing body.

The two allies became rivals as Platini grew impatient to take over, while Blatter’s tenure was brought to a swift end by a separate 2015 FIFA corruption scandal investigated by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Joseph “Sepp” Blatter joined FIFA in 1975, became its general secretary in 1981 and the president of world football’s governing body in 1998.

He was forced to stand down in 2015 and was banned by FIFA for eight years, later reduced to six, over ethics breaches for authorising the payment to Platini, allegedly made in his own interests rather than FIFA’s. Platini is regarded among world football’s greatest-ever players.

He won the Ballon d’Or, considered the most prestigious individual award, three times — in 1983, 1984 and 1985. Platini was UEFA’s president from January 2007 to December 2015.

He appealed against his initial eight-year suspension at the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which reduced it to four years.

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CRIME

FACT CHECK: Do foreigners commit more violent crimes than the Swiss?

Around 25 percent of the Swiss population is of foreign origin. Is the crime rate really higher among them?

FACT CHECK: Do foreigners commit more violent crimes than the Swiss?

Crime rates among foreign residents is a frequent political talking point in Switzerland, particularly among the right-wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP). 

Police in Zurich were forced to provide the nationality of all offenders after an SVP-supported referendum in January 2021 required them to do so

However, new statistics show that most crimes in Switzerland are committed by foreign nationals, including those of a violent nature.

Foreigners — including permanent residents, asylum seekers and tourists — commit more offences with a violent nature than native Swiss, according to data published by the Federal Statistical Office (FSO) in October 2021.

Of the 270 attempted homicides registered in Switzerland in 2020, 99 — almost 33 percent — were committed by Swiss people. The other cases are attributed to foreign nationals.

The FSO also found that Swiss citizens were responsible for less than half of the cases in which a serious bodily injury was inflicted on a victim: 317 out of the total of 712 registered acts, which translates to 45 percent; the remaining 55 percent of these crimes were committed by foreigners.

In both cases this is a higher percentage than that of foreigners as a part of the Swiss population. 

According to Switzerland’s Federal Office of Statistics, foreigners made up 25.1 percent of the population at the end of 2020. While this figure does not include tourists, it is still higher than the 33 percent and 55 percent figures listed above. 

READ MORE: Where in Switzerland do all the international residents live?

The study didn’t altogether absolve the Swiss.

“Foreigners commit violent crimes more often, but that doesn’t mean that the Swiss don’t do the same”, Baier said.

“There are many Swiss who think they have a right to hit anyone who looks at them in a wrong way”.

For instance, in the past six years, serious physical injuries have been inflicted by Swiss people more often than by foreign nationally, especially among those under 24 year of age, FSO reported.

In 2020, nearly half of all crimes were committed by Swiss people; however, these figures have to be put in perspective: since foreign residents constitute only around a quarter of the total population, an above-average number of offenses were committed by foreigners, even among young suspects.

Why do foreigners have a higher rate of violent crime in Switzerland?

There are two explanations why people of foreign origin resort to violence more often that their Swiss counterparts.

According to Dirk Baier, violence researcher at the Zurich University of Applied Sciences, the lower level of income and education among foreign residents is one of the reasons.

“This economic disadvantage can lead to a corresponding reaction: what you cannot buy, you can steal”, he told Swiss news outlet 20 Minutes.

Baier said that these factors were far more important than if someone was a foreigner or not. 

“If you consider young people who have roughly the same attitudes and social conditions, you no longer see any differences in the violent behaviour of Swiss and foreigners”.

Living conditions of these economically disadvantaged groups is also a contributing factor.

“They live in smaller apartments and often with several siblings. Those who spend a lot of time in public space are also more likely to get into conflicts that can escalate into violence”.

READ MORE: IN NUMBERS: Which Swiss cities have the highest crime rates?

Baier added that “the increased propensity for violence among foreigners has nothing to do with biology or genes. It is created by external circumstances – and consequently something can be done about it”.

This is echoed by statements from the Swiss government on crime rates of all forms (i.e. not just violent crime)

“The differences between foreigners and Swiss are relatively small when one takes into account the different age and gender structures. If one only considers the resident population (i.e. leaves out asylum seekers and tourists or travellers passing through), the differences are almost completely absent.”

How can this be prevented or curbed?

One way to counteract this trend, Baier said, is to introduce children with a migration background to the education system at an early stage, for example through language lessons.

“Anyone who understands and communicates in the language of the country in which they live will be less likely to resort to violence”.

There are also other social-cultural factors at play.

“This includes the family situation in which someone grows up. If he or she has  a form of upbringing that is characterised by the dominance of the father who uses violence himself, the child is socialised accordingly”, Baier noted.

“An honour to be defended or the protection of the family also made a number of people of foreign origin react more quickly to aggressive stimuli”, he added.

Baier said the government could do more, but was often held back by a cultural reluctance to intervene in family matters. 

“Switzerland could still do a lot here, the reluctance to interfere in family matters is still very great.”

READ MORE: Why do foreigners ‘commit more violent crimes’ than the Swiss?

What nationalities are most implicated in Swiss crime statistics?

People from these 10 countries committed the most crimes, FSO found:

1. Portugal: 1014

2. Italy :866

3. Other nationalities: 827

4. Kosovo: 656

5. Germany: 589

6. Turkey: 435

7. France: 398

8. Serbia and Montenegro: 385

9. North Macedonia: 328

10. Spain: 289

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