Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy has been linked to an investigation into a missing tranche of millions of euros from deals at the time of Qatar’s successful bid for the 2022 World Cup football tournament.
French investigators are examining a series of business deals including the sale of a stake in Veolia, a waste management company, and the purchase in 2010 of the football club Paris St-Germain (PSG) by Oryx Qatar Sports Investments, according to a report in the Daily Telegraph.
The newspaper alleges that Mr Sarkozy, who was president of France between 2007 and 2012, is being tied to the probe into claims that funds were “siphoned off” from both these deals.
The 2010 decision to award the tournament to Qatar, even though only three of the 12 stadiums proposed for use in the bid had been built, caused considerable upset at the time.
The Qatari football team is currently ranked 79th out of 211 nations in the Fifa world rankings; at the time of the 2010 decision they were 113th and have never qualified for a World Cup finals, although as hosts they will automatically be entered into the 2022 tournament.
France emerged as a key backer of the Qatar bid. Former international midfielder Michel Platini, who was then the head of Uefa, the European football association, voted for Qatar.
It has been alleged his then boss, Sepp Blatter, the disgraced former head of Fifa, persuaded other Fifa committee members to back the Gulf state’s bid.
Mr Platini was at a meeting held just nine days before the vote at the French president’s residence, the Elysee Palace in Paris, which was attended by the Qatari crown prince, now emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani and Mr Sarkozy.
On the agenda were a slew of trade deals, including a contract to sell Airbus planes to Qatar Airways and the prospective purchase of PSG, who are in the news this week for their €222 million (Dh1.92bn) deal to buy Brazilian forward Neymar from Barcelona.
"I knew Sarkozy wanted the people from Qatar to buy PSG," Mr Platini later told the Guardian. "I understood that Sarkozy supported the candidature of Qatar. But he never asked me, or to vote for Russia [for the 2018 World Cup]. He knows my personality. I always vote for what is good for football. Not for myself, not for France."
The allegations swirling around Veolia relate to the role played by Ghanim bin Saad Al Saad, a Qatari businessman. Qatari Diar, a company run by Mr Al Saad, took a 5 per cent stake in the French company in April 2010 and investigators are trying to trace €182m which “may have been siphoned off on the sidelines”.
As Mr Sarkozy is close to current and former top executives at Veolia, prosecutors may be attempting to prove a link between the missing money and the former president. His lawyer, Thierry Herzog, denied any wrongdoing by his client.
The Qatar bid has long been the subject of immense media interest. The Sunday Times newspaper revealed weeks ahead of the choice of Qatar and Russia for the 2018 finals that Fifa committee members were offering their votes for sale, and subsequent investigations focused on the activities of Qatar’s top football official Mohammad bin Hammam, in the successful campaign.