Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini had their bans from soccer reduced from eight years to six on Wednesday, two days before the sport's ruling body tries to turn the page on years of scandals by electing a new president.
Blatter and Platini were initially found guilty of wrongdoing by FIFA's independent ethics committee, which is led by a German judge, over a previously-secret 2011 financial transaction. FIFA President Blatter authorized a payment of 2 million Swiss francs ($2 million) to UEFA president Platini which was found to be unethical and a conflict of interest.
But following hearings last week, an in-house appeal committee comprising members of federations voting in Friday's presidential election decided to relax the suspensions. The committee is headed by Larry Mussenden of Bermuda, who is currently campaigning to win a May vote to become president of CONCACAF and a FIFA vice president.
"The appeal committee considered that Mr. Platini's and Mr. Blatter's activities and the services they had rendered to FIFA, UEFA and football in general over the years should deserve appropriate recognition as a mitigating factor," FIFA said in a statement.
Blatter and Platini can file appeals to the Court of Arbitration for Sport when they get detailed written judgments from FIFA's appeal committee.
Both Blatter and Platini have constantly denied wrongdoing and claimed they had a verbal deal for additional salary that former France great Platini would receive for working as Blatter's presidential adviser from 1999-2002.
They detailed their legal defense in a series of media interviews.
Platini said he asked for a salary of 1 million Swiss francs 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 FIFA's then secretary general in line with its 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. It was not until 2010 that Platini, by then UEFA president, reportedly asked for the balance, and was paid in February 2011.
That timing has raised suspicion as the payment came during a FIFA presidential election campaign. 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 that 2011 election unopposed after Bin Hammam was implicated in bribing Caribbean voters. From then on, Platini was the likely successor to lead FIFA.
Platini's provisional suspension by the ethics committee last October, pending a full investigation, stalled his presidential bid and the ban in December effectively ended it.
Both were fined by the ethics judges in December. Blatter was ordered to pay 50,000 Swiss francs ($50,000) and Platini was fined 80,000 Swiss francs ($80,000).
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. Platini's status in the Swiss investigation is "between a witness and an accused person," Lauber has said.