Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 22 November 2019

Sepp Blatter: I'll speak to 2022 World Cup corruption investigators

Former Fifa boss says questioning of Michel Platini suggests concerns extend to ex-president Sarkozy over 2010 vote

Sepp Blatter reveals Qatar's selection as the 2022 World Cup host nation in 2010. AP
Sepp Blatter reveals Qatar's selection as the 2022 World Cup host nation in 2010. AP

Sepp Blatter, the disgraced former head of Fifa, said he is willing to speak to French anti-corruption investigators investigating the award of the 2022 World Cup to Qatar.

Mr Blatter, 83, said he was “at the disposal” of officials to discuss the frantic horse-trading in the days before the award of the world’s largest single sport event to a state with no history of hosting major tournaments.

Mr Blatter, who was head of the world’s global football body for 18 years, is currently suspended from football for six years over a secret £1.3 million payment to former Uefa boss Michel Platini, just months after the award of the tournament.

Mr Platini was questioned last month by French investigators over matters including the award of the 2022 tournament.

Investigators were seeking to check if Mr Platini received bribes in exchange for his support for Qatar, according to French media reports. He has denied any wrongdoing.

Mr Blatter has previously spoken to French officials in 2017 in Switzerland as a potential witness but told the BBC that he was ready to be questioned further following the grilling of Mr Platini.

“I am prepared to help to clarify all these situations,” he told the British broadcaster. “I heard that they would like to speak with me.”

Mr Platini was seen as a likely replacement for Mr Blatter when he eventually stepped down as the most powerful figure in global football.

The succession planning was thrown awry by the corruption scandal that engulfed the sport following the award of the tournament to Doha. The were both toppled from their positions in 2015.

Mr Blatter had favoured a US bid but Mr Platini switched sides to back the Middle Eastern bid following a private dinner at the Elysee Palace, hosted by French president Nicolas Sarkozy, and included officials from Qatar including then crown prince Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad al Thani.

Mr Blatter has claimed that Mr Platini’s switch was key to deciding the outcome of the vote, which came just nine days after the dinner.

He claimed that Mr Platini told him that he was switching because of potential trade deals between France and Qatar. Mr Platini has denied the claim and said that he voted in the interests of football development.

“Sarkozy never asked me to vote for Qatar, but I knew what would be good,” he told the Associated Press in 2015.

Former Uefa president Michel Platini was arrested in June as part of a corruption probe into the vote that gave the 2022 World Cup to Qatar. AP Photo
Former Uefa president Michel Platini was arrested in June as part of a corruption probe into the vote that gave the 2022 World Cup to Qatar. AP Photo

Mr Blatter told the FT in 2015 that there had been a “gentleman’s agreement” among Fifa’s top brass to back the US bid within 22-strong executive committee who decided the venue before a secret ballot.

He blamed the “governmental interference of Mr Sarkozy” for the change.

He said he received a telephone call from Mr Platini after the dinner who said that “I am no longer in your picture because I have been told by the head of state that we should consider… the situation of France.”

Two of the former president’s aides were also quizzed last month by French anti-corruption investigators. Mr Blatter said he believed that Mr Platini was questioned because of the greater interest in the role of Mr Sarkozy.

“French justice is looking in this matter but not specifically because it concerns Mr Platini, but because it concerns the [ex] head of state [Sarkozy],” the BBC reported him as saying in an interview in Zurich.

“The two other persons with him were directly linked to the former President Sarkozy. So the objective there, in my opinion, was not to put Platini in a bad situation, but to have more information.”

A month after the ballot, Qatar announced that it had begun testing French Dassault Rafale fighter jets for a fleet upgrade. It later agreed a $7 billion deal to buy 24 of the jets. Two years later, Qatar agreed to buy 12 more.

Qatari investments in France amount to about 30 billion euros since the 1990s when the economic relationship started to grow, according to Qatari officials.

The relationship continued after Mr Sarkozy lost power in 2012 with visits to Qatar by President Francois Hollande and his successor Emmanuel Macron, who signed deals in education, defence and counter-terrorism. Other investments have included in energy, property, telecommunications and sports.

The year after the vote, Qatar bought Paris Saint-Germain football club and started spending heavily on recruiting star players including Brazilian forward Neymar. Mr Sarkozy is a fan of PSG and frequently attends games.

Updated: July 4, 2019 07:08 PM

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