International review Investigation

Nicolas Sarkozy under scrutiny in prosecutors’ probe into Qatar World Cup vote-buying

Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Source: JACKY NAEGELEN.

This material belongs to: Daily Telegraph.Nicolas Sarkozy is to be embroiled in the criminal investigation into Qatar’s World Cup bid amid suggestions he may have benefited from multi-million-pound business deals linked to the Gulf state.

The Daily Telegraph can disclose that French investigators are examining whether France’s former president may have received funds from transactions negotiated around the time of the 2022 bid, including from the sale of Paris Saint-Germain football club (PSG) to Qatar.

Qatar is facing a series of international criminal inquiries into its successful World Cup bid amid claims that huge bribes were paid to secure support.

France emerged as one of the key backers for the Qatari bid and the former head of Fifa has claimed that Mr Sarkozy was a central figure in ensuring that the plan was supported by Paris and the other European nations whose representatives took part in the vote in 2010. A source close to the French inquiries said that officers were examining several deals, which also include the purchase of a stake in a French utility firm by Qatari Diar, the state-owned investment company.

The PSG deal is being investigated as the club hits the headlines for attempting to sign the Brazilian player Neymar from Barcelona in a record-breaking deal expected to amount to about £400 million.

Qatar, where daytime temperatures reach 104F (40C), was an unlikely candidate to host the World Cup. Following the announcement of its successful candidacy the tiny state faced claims that it had “been pushing money around”, and further disclosures and allegations have followed about incentives offered to Fifa executive committee members in return for their votes.

In June Fifa published an internal report by Michael Garcia, a US lawyer, into the bidding process, which raised further questions about the country’s campaign.

Qatar is separately facing fierce criticism from neighbouring countries over its alleged support for militant groups and Iran, which Doha denies.

The French investigation into the World Cup bidding process came out of an inquiry into corruption allegations involving Lamine Diack, who was president of the International Association of Athletics Federations until 2015. It is understood that officers working on the case began examining the World Cup bid last year.

As part of their inquiries, they have interviewed Sepp Blatter, the former Fifa president. He is understood to have told them that Michel Platini, the French former Uefa president, who sat on the Fifa committee that chose Qatar, said before the ballot that he and four other committee members had decided to support the state.

The Telegraph understands that prosecutors are also examining deals overseen by Ghanim bin Saad al Saad, a Qatari businessman. 

One of the deals that prosecutors are examining is the sale of Veolia, the French waste company, in which Qatari Diar, which was run by Mr Saad, bought a 5 per cent stake in April 2010.

Investigators are attempting to trace €182 million (£164 million) which they believe “may have been siphoned off on the sidelines” in relation to the Veolia deal.

Sources close to the inquiry have said that prosecutors suspect that some of these funds may have been used to make payments to officials connected to the World Cup.

As part of the inquiry, officers visited Cyprus in an attempt to locate funds associated with the Veolia deal.

Mr Sarkozy is known to be close to several current and former Veolia executives and as such, prosecutors are likely to be examining whether he may have been offered or received any funds.

Another part of the investigation centres around a meeting that took place between Mr Sarkozy, Mr Platini, and Qatari officials 10 days before the vote.

The meeting at the Élysée Palace is said to be where Qatar agreed to buy PSG, another deal being examined by French investigators.

Colony Capital sold the club to Qatar in 2011. The firm’s chief exceutive, Sebastien Bazin, is known to be close to Sarkozy.

The relationship is thought to stem from an incident in the Nineties when the former president saved the life of one of Bazin’s relatives.

At the time of the 2010 vote, the Qatar national football team was ranked 113th in the world and had never played in a World Cup. Of the 12 stadiums that would host matches, nine had yet to be built and three needed major renovation.

Allegations of vote-buying by Doha have previously centred on how the former Qatari executive committee member, Mohammed Bin Hammam, used one of his companies to make payments to officials.

However, there have always been suspicions that Mr Hammam would have been unable to finance such a complex and expensive operation single-handedly.

In his report Mr Garcia expressed concern about a meeting between Qatar’s Emir and two executive committee members at which is appeared that gifts may have been bestowed by the head of state on his guests.

The bid committee denied any knowledge of gifts and told Mr Garcia that “the Emir is not bound by Fifa’s rules”.

Mr Sarkozy’s lawyer, Thierry Herzog, denied any wrongdoing by his client and pointed out that Mr Garcia’s report stated “no evidence was found” linking Mr Platini’s vote with any investments.

A source claimed the investigation was “politically motivated”.

A spokeswoman for the National Financial Prosecutor’s Office said that they were “carrying out two separate preliminary inquiries” into the Veolia deal and the Qatar World Cup bid.

The remit of the World Cup inquiry is to determine if French officials at Fifa “were persuaded to favour the choice of Qatar… and what they got in exchange”.

She said that “no link has been established between these two inquiries, even if they have the period and certain protagonists in common” and that Mr Sarkozy was not “formally and personally targeted at this stage”.

A logo at the FIFA headquarters in Zurich. Source: MICHAEL BUHOLZER/AFP/GETTY IMAGES.

The Qatari organising committee was asked whether it or any other Qatari organisations had paid bribes. A spokesman responded that “the Qatar 2022 bid committee did not break any rules” and said that Mr Garcia had found the same.

The committee had not been approached by “any authority in relation to investigations”.

Veolia, Mr al-Saad’s GSS Group and Qatari Diar failed to respond to questions.

A spokesman for Mr Bazin said that he did not attend the meeting at the Élysée where the sale of the club was discussed and he was not involved in any wrongdoing.

Negotiations about the sale of the club were “held exclusively between Colony Capital and the QIA”.