KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING —- Michel Platini, one-time vice-president of FIFA and head of UEFA, has been questioned by police in France in connection with a criminal investigation into the award of the 2022 World Cup finals to Qatar.
The 63-year-old Frenchman was considered to have played a decisive role in swinging the decision by the world governing body’s executive committee only weeks after a luncheon meeting with President Nicolas Sarkozy and the future Emir of Qatar, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.
Until then it had been expected that Platini would use his vote and influence on behalf of the United States. Instead the US bid was defeated 14-8 in the fourth and final round of balloting in December 2010 to the astonishment of the world game.
Platini had been one of the finest forwards in the 1980s. He scored 269 goals for clubs and country over 15 years and captained France to European Championship success in 1984. Later he managed France before rising to the UEFA presidency in 2007. This also carried a FIFA vice-presidency and he was considered the heir-apparent to then supremo Blatter.
In 2015, however, Platini was banned from football for eight years, reduced to four on appeal, for accepting a “disloyal payment” of $2m from Blatter. The ban expires in October and he is challenging the process at the European Court of Human Rights.
Platini’s detention by the French financial crime unit’s anti-corruption office was first reported by the news website Mediapart on Tuesday. Claude Gueant, a secretary-general at the Élysée Palace under Sarkozy, was also questioned. Both were subsequently released.
French sources have suggested that, rather than Platini, the main investigatory target may be Sarkozy and his financial and political negotiations with Qatar while in office.
Platini has always denied any wrongdoing in connection with the FIFA payment or World Cup award which is also the subject of judicial investigation in Switzerland where FIFA is headquartered.
On December 10, 2010, after a scandal-scarred bidding campaign which ended up with two other exco members suspended before the vote, FIFA had awarded the 2018 finals to Russia and then 2022 to Qatar.
The decision infuriated Blatter who had harboured Nobel Peace Prize dreams from the prospect of simultaneous World Cup awards to former Cold War superpower rivals Russia and America. Blatter has always blamed Platini’s decision on the Sarkozy lunch.
In mid-2017 French criminal investigators began to probe whether Sarkozy had received funds from multi-million-dollar business deals negotiated around the time of Qatar’s successful World Cup bid.
Deals between France and Qatar including the sale of French-made Airbus planes and the sale of a five per cent stake of waste management company Veolia by state-owned Qatari Diar. Sarkozy had close links with several executives of Veolia whose chief executive, Sebastien Bazin, had sold PSG to Qatar Sports Investments in 2011.
Prosecutors were curious as to whether Sarkozy benefited personally from these deals and whether he knew or participated in any improper transactions linked to the World Cup bid.
QSI, the beIN Media Group and PSG are all chaired by Qatari businessman Nasser Khelaifi. He also represents the influential European Club Association on the executive committee of UEFA. Khelaifi is under investigation in Switzerland over the purchase of World Cup broadcasting rights.
Khelaifi, like Sarkozy previously and Platini in the last 24 hours, have all denied any wrongdoing.
Qatar’s World Cup bid was cleared of allegations of rule-bending by a FIFA inquiry led by Michael Garcia, a United States attorney who was briefly investigations head of the world federation’s ethics committee.
Garcia concluded that some of Qatar’s conduct “may not have met the standards” required but there was no “evidence of any improper activity by the bid team.”