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Official corruption inquiry launched into Qatar 2022 bid win, opening the door to indictments

After three years of preliminary investigation, the National Public Prosecutor’s Office has recently opened a judicial inquiry for “corruption” over the awarding of the 2022 World Cup to Qatar, according to Mediapart. Michel Platini and two former colleagues of Nicolas Sarkozy from the French presidential palace were questioned in June by the police.

This is a major turning point for the part that the French had to play in the business of the 2022 World Cup. Mediapart claim that the National Financial Prosecutor (PNF) has opened a judicial investigation into “active and passive bribery”, as well as for the subsequent concealment of these crimes, on the disputed allocation by FIFA of the competition to Qatar on December 2, 2010. Contacted by Mediapart, the PNF confirmed the opening of the judicial information and refused to add anything further.

After three years of preliminary investigations, the PNF has decided to entrust further investigations to an investigating judge. This decision follows hearings on 18th June overseen by police officers of the anti-corruption office (OCLCIFF), which included the temporary police custody of Michel Platini, who notably voted for Qatar in the December 2010 elections.

On the same day, the police also interrogated two former Nicolas Sarkozy employees at who worked at the Élysée Palace: his former secretary general, Claude Guéant, and his former sports adviser Sophie Dion.

When Michel Platini was released from custody, his lawyer, William Bourdon, had denounced what he viewed as “a lot, a lot of noise for nothing,” believing that his client was “a total stranger to the claims about him.” “We are both calm and confident about the future,” added Bourdon.

The National Financial Prosecutor’s Office, for its part, considered that the investigation should be pursued by an independent examining magistrate, who has the power to formally indict suspects.

Although nothing in particular has filtered through on the focus of their investigation, Mediapart believe that investigators are interested in the now infamous secret meeting at the Elysee Palace, revealed in 2013 by France Football and So Foot. On November 23rd 2010, nine days before the Fifa vote to award the World Cup in Qatar, President Nicolas Sarkozy had invited then Prince Tamim ben Hamad al-Thani (has been the Emir since 2013) and Michel Platini to lunch.

Consulted by Le Monde in 2015, the official archives of the Elysee have confirmed the existence of the secret lunch, in which Qatari Prime Minister of the time Hamad ben Jassem al-Thani, Secretary General of the Elysee, Claude Guéant, as well as Sophie Dion, then sports consultant of Nicolas Sarkozy, all also participated. Somewhat ironically, the latter is currently heading up a lecture series on “Ethics and safety in sport”, funded by Qatar at the Sorbonne University in Paris.

According to France Football, “during this meeting, what was discussed was the acquisition of PSG by the Qataris, a possible increase in their shareholding in the Lagardère group, the creation of a sports channel (BeIN Sports) to compete with Canal +…” All of which is alleged to have been agreed to by Qatar “in exchange for a promise: that Platini does not give his vote to the United States, as he had envisioned, but to Qatar.”

Nine days after the lunch, on December 2, 2010, Qatar won the 2022 World Cup bid. Seven months later, in June 2011, Qatar bought PSG from Colony Capital. And in late 2011, the son of Michel Platini, Laurent, was hired by Qatari sports equipment supplier Burrda, a subsidiary of Qatar Sports Investments (QSI) and the sovereign wealth fund of the emirate, which also owns the PSG and the television channel: BeIN Sports.

The inquiry will have to determine whether this is all a mere coincidence, or actually execution of the presumed arrangement concluded at the Elysee lunch.

The launch of this investigation may well have political consequences, as according to La Tribune, Qatar are “close to giving up” on a deal to buy French armoured vehicles from Nexter for €2bn as a form of protest against the indictment for corruption of PSG President Nasser al-Khelaifi, in the case of the World Athletics Championships.

The idea that this secret meeting at the Elysee “changed the game” in favour of Qatar has been publicly supported by disgraced ex-FIFA President Sepp Blatter. Michel Platini denies Blatter’s accusations, claiming that this is a form of revenge that Blatter is taking designed to prevent him from ever becoming FIFA President.

Platini has made public assurances that then French president Nicolas Sarkozy did not ask him to vote for Qatar during this lunch, even if he “felt that there was a subliminal message.” Laurent Platini has also gone on the record to state that his father played no role in his being hired as the General Manager of Burrda, which he quit to join the Lagardère group in 2016.

The opening of this judicial investigation comes just after Michel Platini has finished serving his 4-year suspension imposed by FIFA owing to the fact that he was under investigation for possible corruption. This actually related to a tangential matter. On 17th January 2011, one month after Qatar was awarded the 2022 World Cup, Platini demanded and obtained a payment of €1.8m from FIFA.

He claims that this payment corresponded to unpaid remuneration when he was an adviser to Sepp Blatter at FIFA, between 1998 and 2002. This case forced Platini to step down from UEFA and prevented him from running for the FIFA presidency. The 4-year sentence handed down by FIFA was upheld by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). However, Le Monde claimed in May 2018 that the Swiss federal prosecutor, who had opened a criminal investigation into Platini on the same matter, informed him that he would not be incriminated. Platini took this to mean that he had been completely exonerated.

The former UEFA president, who believes he was the victim of a conspiracy to prevent him from presiding over FIFA, filed a counter-suit for “slanderous denunciation” and “criminal conspiracy to commit the crime of slanderous denunciation,” with the aim of going after the leaders and ex-leaders of FIFA.

As revealed by Le Monde, the Paris prosecutor’s office decided at the end of October to defer the matter to Swiss courts – a logical decision, since FIFA and its big-wigs are based in Zurich.

On 8th November, Michel Platini also told the AFP that he is demanding that UEFA pay him arrears salary and a bonus as provided for in his former contract with the body that he presided over between January 2007 and October 2015, as well as the payment of legal fees. He intended to start a labour tribunal proceeding against UEFA.

Since his suspension came to an end in October, rumours have already begun to murmur about Platini making a play for the FFF presidency in 2021 or the FIFA presidency in 2023. When pressed on the matter, Platini kept his cards close to his chest: “I’ll be back. I do not know where, I do not know how.”

Whatever his ambitions, the justice system has not finished with Platini yet.

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