By JOHN LEICESTER, SAMUEL PETREQUIN
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Wednesday, June 19, 2019
PARIS -- French police investigating whether corruption played a role in the stunning decision to award the 2022 World Cup to the desert country of Qatar took former soccer superstar and top executive Michel Platini into custody on Tuesday for questioning.
Platini's representatives denied any wrongdoing on his part, saying he is "absolutely confident in the future" and has "strictly nothing to reproach himself for."
Also questioned on Tuesday were two onetime associates of former French president Nicolas Sarkozy, adding a layer of political intrigue to the investigation of the hugely controversial decision to play soccer's showcase tournament in a country so scorching hot in June and July that the matches will be held instead in November and December.
As head of European soccer's governing body UEFA, Platini was the continent's top representative on the FIFA committee that picked Qatar in 2010.
The closed-door, secret-ballot vote baffled many at the time, not least because the Persian Gulf state has no soccer pedigree to speak of. But gas-rich Qatar is also pouring billions into the world's most popular sport and has the means to finance new stadiums.
Platini, 63, was taken into custody after being summoned to a French police anti-corruption and financial crimes office outside Paris, a judicial official told The Associated Press, confirming a report by online publication Mediapart. The official was not authorized to discuss the investigation and spoke on condition of anonymity.
French authorities did not announce any charges against the soccer legend or say exactly what he was being asked.
He can be held for questioning for up to 48 hours, after which he must be either released or formally charged.
The corruption and influencepeddling probe is one of several investigations launched by French prosecutors into an array of winning bids for major sports events, including the 2018 World Cup, awarded to Russia, the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo and track and field world championships.
Platini's public-relations representatives said he was also questioned about the awarding of the 2016 European Championship to France.
"Michel Platini expresses himself serenely and precisely, answering all the questions, including those on the conditions for the awarding of the 2016 Euro, and has provided useful explanations," they said in a statement.
Platini's representatives said the former France national-team captain was taken into custody only for "technical reasons." His lawyer, William Bourdon, explained that police wanted to ensure that Platini and other witnesses couldn't confer with one another about their accounts.
French prosecutors previously questioned former FIFA president Sepp Blatter, who oversaw the unusual vote that awarded both the 2022 and 2018 tournaments at the same time.
Also detained on Tuesday was Sophie Dion, a former sports adviser in Sarkozy's administration, the judicial official said. Claude Guéant, former secretary-general of the Élysée Palace under Sarkozy, was heard as a witness and not detained.
Ahead of the FIFA vote, Sarkozy, France's president from 2007 to 2012, played host to a meeting in November, 2010, that brought Platini together with then-Crown Prince Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, now the ruling emir of Qatar.
Al-Thani also owns French soccer club Paris Saint-Germain, and Sarkozy frequently attends its games.
Platini has long insisted that the meeting did not influence his vote for Qatar less than two weeks later.
"Sarkozy never asked me to vote for Qatar, but I knew what would be good," he said in a 2015 interview. But in the same interview, he also said that he "might have told" American officials earlier that he was going to vote for the United States' bid.