Judicial investigations focus on Qatar’s French connection

Paris prosecutor looks at suspicions of a crown prince’s deal with Sarkozy allowing Qatar to host FIFA World Cup 2022.
Sunday 15/12/2019
A trip down memory lane. A 2010 file picture shows then French President Nicolas Sarkozy (L) and Qatar’s Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani at the Elysee Palace in Paris. 	  	         	     (AFP)
A trip down memory lane. A 2010 file picture shows then French President Nicolas Sarkozy (L) and Qatar’s Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani at the Elysee Palace in Paris. (AFP)

PARIS - If French investigators’ leads are any indication of things to come, suspicions that Doha “bought” the hosting of FIFA World Cup 2022 are likely to haunt the Qataris for a while.

Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, who, at the time, was crown prince, highly placed officials in the Qatari ruling family and top echelons of the French government during Nicolas Sarkozy’s presidency have been suspected in the probe.

The National Financial Prosecutor (PNF) began an investigation for “active and passive corruption” and for “concealing and laundering these crimes” regarding the obscure and contested conditions of FIFA’s awarding World Cup 2022 to Qatar.”

In “Une France sous influence: Quand le Qatar fait de notre pays son terrain de jeu” (“France Under Influence: When Qatar Makes Our Country Its Playground”), published in 2014, Vanessa Ratignier and Pierre Pean reported on the deal between Sarkozy and Qatar.

“The ownership of PSG (Paris Saint-Germain football club) was exchanged for (Michel) Platini’s support for World Cup 2022. A real barter: there are no other words to qualify the deal which was struck right inside the Elysee Palace in the autumn of 2010,” the authors wrote.

“Masterminding the deal was Nicolas Sarkozy, who was always arranging the private businesses of his friends by rallying Michel Platini to the Qatari candidacy to host the World Cup 2022, while arranging Qatar’s entry into French football.

“Thus, he lends a helping hand to his friend Sebastien Bazin, who wanted to sell the PSG and insists that he and [Sheikh] Tamim al-Thani, who headed Qatar Sports Investments, finalise the sale of the club in the presence of Platini — a FIFA member — who can weigh in with a decisive vote at FIFA to award the emirate the hosting of the World Cup.

“Incidentally, it was also expected that the Qataris increase their share in the capital of Lagardere, while the launch of Al Jazeera Sports in France was evoked, creating the beginnings of a situation that would flirt with the conflict of interests.”

Suspicions of corruption, apparently corroborated by judicial investigations, including ones in New York and Switzerland, swept FIFA President Sepp Blatter out of office in June 2015 under suspicion of money laundering and unfair management in awarding FIFA’s 2018 and 2022 World Cups.

On June 18, officers from the anti-corruption office questioned Platini, former UEFA president and FIFA vice-president from 2007-15, who supported Qatar in the December 2010 vote awarding the 2022 World Cup hosting rights. Platini was placed in police custody during the hearing.

Police also interrogated former Sarkozy aides: his Secretary-General Claude Gueant and sports adviser Sophie Dion. The latter, as disclosed by Mediapart, is chairwoman on Ethics and Safety in Sports at the Sorbonne University in Paris, which is funded by Qatar.

There are reasons to believe it was during a “secret lunch” November 23, 2010, nine days before the FIFA vote, at the Elysee Palace that a deal was sealed. Sarkozy invited Sheikh Tamim and Platini to the Elysee. Palace archives confirm the participation of Qatari Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassem al-Thani, Gueant and Dion.

France Football magazine reported that, during the meeting, the topics discussed were, “in order, the Qataris’ acquisition of the PSG, increasing their shareholding in the Lagardere Group and the creation of a sports channel (BeIN Sports) to compete with Canal +.”

The agreement was “in exchange for a promise: that Platini does not give his vote to the United States, as he had envisioned, but to Qatar,” France Football said.

Accusations brought by PNF include private corruption, criminal conspiracy, influence peddling and concealment.

Questions from the inquiry include whether suspicions will be confirmed and that Qatar and its accomplices in France be convicted and will the hosting of the World Cup 2020 be withdrawn from Qatar?

The investigation is likely to guide investigators to murky files, such as the financing of radical political Islam in France, Qatar’s role in Libya, alleged collusion with Libyan extremist militias and its suspected involvement in funding jihadist groups in Africa’s Sahel region who had declared war on France in that region.