Blatter says Sarkozy's influence influenced Qatar World Cup vote

AFP , Friday 30 Oct 2015

UEFA President Michel Platini (R) congratulates FIFA President Sepp Blatter after he was re-elected at the 65th FIFA Congress in Zurich, Switzerland, May 29, 2015. (Photo: Reuters)

Suspended FIFA president Sepp Blatter has again accused former French president Nicolas Sarkozy of influencing the awarding of the 2022 World Cup hosting rights to Qatar rather than the United States.

Qatar controversially won the right to host the 2022 World Cup, a decision that has since sparked a series of corruption investigations surrounding FIFA and its officials.

Speaking to Friday's edition of Britain's Financial Times, Blatter repeated the claims he made on Wednesday to Russian news agency TASS that FIFA's executive committee had originally agreed to award the 2018 tournament to Russia and the next World Cup to the US.

Blatter told the FT that there had been a "gentleman's agreement" that the two World Cups in question would go to the "two superpowers" -- although Moscow denies there was any such arrangement.

"It was behind the scenes. It was diplomatically arranged to go there," said Blatter, who has found himself at the centre of a FIFA corruption storm ever since being re-elected to a fifth term in May.

However, as he stated on Wednesday, Blatter, who is set to stand down after February's FIFA presidential election, said Sarkozy's influence moved the goalposts -- something the French politician strongly denies.

"Just one week before the election I got a telephone call from Platini and he said, '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'. And he told me that this will affect more than one vote because he had a group of voters," said Blatter.

Platini, the suspended UEFA chief, admitted to voting for Qatar at the election in December 2010 when the World Cups were awarded to Russia and the tiny desert kingdom, but denied doing so on the orders of Sarkozy, who was French president from 2007-2012, despite the latter having not long beforehand invited him to dinner with the future Qatari emir, Tamim ben Hamad al Thani, then the prince of Qatar.

'Great power' 

Speaking to French 24-hour news channel BFMTV on Thursday, Sarkozy also denied using his influence to affect the World Cup vote.

"There you go, once again someone who attributes great power to me," said Sarkozy from Moscow where he was meeting with Russian president Vladimir Putin.

"That was not my aim, nor was it to manage PSG, nor to attribute the World Cup to anyone in particular," he added ironically.

"But you thank him (Blatter) nonetheless from me. It was doubtless a reference that points to his very great friendship with Michel Platini."

Blatter told TASS on Wednesday that after the Franco-Qatari summit, "four European votes deserted the United States and the result was 14-8 (to Qatar)". Otherwise, according to Blatter, the United States would have won the right to host the World Cup by 12 votes to 10 following the supposedly secret ballot in 2010.

Earlier this month, both Blatter and Platini, who is a FIFA vice-president as well as running European football, were suspended by FIFA's independent ethics committee for 90 days as part of a wide-ranging investigation into corruption at the heart of world football's governing body.

Those suspensions are related to a 1.8 million euro ($2 million) payment made by FIFA to Platini in 2011 for consultancy work carried out several years earlier. Both parties deny there was anything untoward in the payment, for which there was no written contract, despite the inexplicable delay.

Figo for Infantino

Meanwhile, former Portugal star Luis Figo, once a presidential candidate himself, has given his backing to UEFA general secretary Gianni Infantino, whose own candidature has been seen in many quarters as sounding the death knell of Platini's own bid.

"His experience, competence, capacity for work and his honesty make him the best candidate for the presidency," said Figo, who eventually pulled out of the last FIFA election in May, said of Swiss lawyer Infantino.

Banking giant Credit Suisse also revealed on Friday that it is under investigation by Swiss and US authorities over links to FIFA officials accused of bribery and corruption.

"Credit Suisse has received inquiries from these authorities regarding its banking relationships with certain individuals and entities associated with FIFA," the bank said in a statement.

US and Swiss authorities are probing whether Credit Suisse and other institutions waved through improper transactions or failed to observe anti-money laundering regulations in dealing with the accounts of FIFA associates.

(For more sports news and updates, follow Ahram Online Sports on Twitter at @AO_Sports and on Facebook at AhramOnlineSports.)

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