Football: Ex-Uefa chief Michel Platini arrested in Qatar World Cup probe, claims of meeting before the award

Michel Platini led Uefa until 2015, when he was banned from football for four years for ethics violations, including receiving a payment from the disgraced former head of Fifa Sepp Blatter.
Michel Platini led Uefa until 2015, when he was banned from football for four years for ethics violations, including receiving a payment from the disgraced former head of Fifa Sepp Blatter.PHOTO: AFP

PARIS (AFP, REUTERS) - Former Uefa chief Michel Platini was arrested on Tuesday (June 18) in connection with a probe into the awarding of the 2022 World Cup to Qatar, a source close to the investigation said.

The France football legend, elected to lead European football's governing body in 2007, was taken into custody by French anti-corruption police investigating the awarding of the 2022 World Cup to the gas-rich Gulf state.

Platini’s lawyer, William Bourdon, said his client was innocent and that he was being questioned on “technical grounds.” The detention of the former soccer star was first reported by French investigative website Mediapart.

Qatar was named to host the World Cup in a December 2010 decision that triggered controversy over its suitability amid allegations of corruption.

France’s national financial prosecutor’s office (PNF), which specialises in investigating economic crimes and corruption, has been leading a probe into the awarding of the 2022 tournament to the Gulf emirate since 2016. It is looking into possible offences including private corruption, conspiracy and influence peddling.

A statement issued on behalf of Bourdon and Platini read: “His lawyer, William Bourdon, would like to state as strongly as possible that this is not an arrest, but rather being heard as a witness by the investigators within a framework preventing those being questioned and heard from consulting each other during the process."

Platini, 63, led Uefa until 2015, when he was banned from football for four years for ethics violations, including receiving a two-million Swiss franc (S$2.74 million) payment from Sepp Blatter, the disgraced former head of world governing body Fifa.

Le Monde newspaper reported that prosecutors were particularly looking into a lunch hosted by France’s then President Nicolas Sarkozy, nine days before the announcement that Qatar would host the cup. Platini and Qatar’s Prime Minister at the time, Sheikh Tamim Ben Hamad Al Thani, were guests at the lunch.

Two of Sarkozy’s aides at that time, Claude Gueant and Sophie Dion, were also questioned by police on Tuesday, judicial sources confirmed to Reuters. Dion remains detained with Platini, while Gueant has been released, the sources said.

Platini has made no secret of his support for Qatar but denies he was influenced by Sarkozy.

“It was time to give them the World Cup. I am for that. It’s my conviction,” he said at the time.

Qatar has been accused of buying votes in its bid to stage the World Cup and a subsequent report by US independent investigator Michael Garcia unearthed an array of suspect financial dealings, many linked to Sandro Rosell, the ex-Barcelona president who served as a consultant for Qatar.

The decision to award the event to Qatar ultimately led to a wider corruption probe that led to the overthrow of Blatter and Platini and the arrest of senior Fifa figures.

Officials with Qatar’s World Cup organising committee said they had no immediate comment.

Fifa, the world governing body of soccer, said it was aware of the reports concerning Platini, who is a former Fifa vice-president, but said it had no details on the investigation.

Fifa “reiterates its full commitment to cooperating with the authorities in any given country of the world where investigations are taking place in connection with football activities”, it said in a statement.

Platini, a three-time Ballon d’Or winner, was expected to succeed Blatter as Fifa president in 2016 before his fall from grace. He has been battling to clear his name ever since.

As a player in the 1970s and 1980s, he was a prolific striker, mainly for Saint-Etienne in France and Juventus in Italy.

He featured in three World Cups, captaining the national squad to the semi-finals in both 1982 and 1986, and leading France to victory in the 1984 European Championship on home ground, scoring nine goals in five matches.