France mulls probe into Qatar 2022 decision – Financial Times

UEFA President Michel Platini arrives for a hearing at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in an appeal against FIFA's ethics committee's ban, in Lausanne, Switzerland April 29, 2016. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse©Reuters
Michel Platini arrives at a Swiss court ahead of an appeal against his ban by Fifa’s ethics committee

French authorities are considering launching a probe into Fifa’s decision to award the 2022 World Cup to Qatar, amid allegations that senior figures in France may have exerted pressure on football’s world governing body.
Eliane Houlette, France’s financial prosecutor, said such an inquiry would investigate the role played by Michel Platini, former president of Uefa, European football’s governing body. She declined to comment on allegations about the role of the government and the former president Nicolas Sarkozy.

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“We have some pieces of information that push us to [open an investigation],” she told Europe 1 radio station on Sunday. “If there is an investigation, Michel Platini’s role will certainly be an essential part, but the investigation will not centre on him.”
The comments come amid a series of allegations of corruption and collusion in connection with Fifa’s decision in 2010 to select Qatar as host of the 2022 tournament. The FBI in the US is already investigating how Qatar was awarded the event as part of an expanding probe into corruption at the organisation.
In an interview with German newspaper Welt am Sonntag last year, Sepp Blatter, Fifa’s former chief, alleged Mr Sarkozy had exerted pressure on world football’s governing body. He made the claims after French magazine France Football alleged that the then president had asked Mr Platini to help Qatar during a meeting at the Elysée Palace shortly before Fifa’s decision to choose the Gulf state in 2010. Both Mr Platini and Mr Sarkozy have denied wrongdoing.
A separate French investigation would come at a bad time for Mr Sarkozy, who is expected to announce his candidacy for the centre-right presidential nomination in the next few weeks. The former president is back at the helm of the centre-right Republican party after being defeated by Socialist leader François Hollande in 2012.
Eliane Houlette©Getty
The claims are part of a myriad of allegations swirling around Fifa. In March, French financial prosecutors searched the French football federation in relation to a Sfr2m payment Mr Blatter allegedly made to Mr Platini .
While Mr Blatter and Mr Platini say the payment, made in February 2011, was back pay for work Mr Platini carried out for Fifa between 1998 and 2002, there was no contract and no record of the payment in Fifa’s accounts.
Ms Houlette is also investigating suspicious payments worth about $2m to a company linked to Papa Massata Diack, the son of Lamine Diack, former chief of the International Association of Athletics Federations, over alleged connections to Japan’s successful bid to host the 2020 Olympic Games. The younger Mr Diack previously told The Guardian, the UK newspaper, that he did not wish to comment on the investigation as he was “part of the legal process”.
“The governance of those big international sports organisations is opaque and autocratic,” Ms Houlette said.
Ms Houlette is also investigating Google and McDonald’s over suspected tax fraud. Last week, nearly 100 officers raided Google’s Paris offices as part of “Operation Tulipe” — the code name for the investigation looking into suspicions that the US technology group may owe the French state back taxes worth as much as €1.6bn. They came out with “several tetra octets” of documents, Ms Houlette said.
Google has previously told media it is fully compliant with French law. Mcdonald’s has declined to comment on the search, referring instead to previous comments on its pride at being one of France’s biggest taxpayers.
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