Sarkozy's personal interests emerge in Qatar World Cup investigation

Qatar could have awarded the former French president personally after he won the right to organize the 2022 World Cup, a fact that the French leader would have pressed for
Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy

AFP/JOEL SAGET  -   Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy

The issue of the dubious process of awarding the organisation of the 2022 football World Cup to Qatar is now being brought to the attention of former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, following the alleged benefits that the former French president might have received in his personal business after leaving the Elysée Palace.

The investigation into corruption in the designation of Qatar as the venue for the 2022 World Cup is increasingly focusing on Nicolas Sarkozy's private interests, according to several unpublished documents collected by the media outlet Mediapart.

The National Finance Prosecutor's Office (PNF) has decided to open legal proceedings after three years of preliminary investigations into Michel Platini, former president of the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) and former vice-president of the International Federation of Football Associations (FIFA), and two former subordinates of Nicolas Sarkozy: his general secretary at the Elysée Palace, Claude Guéant, and his sports advisor, Sophie Dion, who have already been declared suspects by the Anti-Corruption Office of the Judicial Police, either in police custody or in a free hearing. 

El expresidente de la UEFA Michel Platini
PHOTO/FEDERICO GAMBARINI - Former UEFA President Michel Platini

In the same vein as reported by Mediapart, investigations by the AFP agency are beginning to converge on the figure of Nicolas Sarkozy, since, after his departure from the Elysée Palace in 2012, the former president would have benefited personally in his private affairs thanks to the support given to the State of Qatar with the allegedly important role played in obtaining for Qatar the right to organize the 2022 World Cup. 

As a lawyer (the personal profession of the former French president) Nicolas Sarkozy also secured contracts with two major French businessmen, who were suspected of having taken advantage of the French Presidency's action in favour of awarding the World Cup to Doha. It is now up to the courts to investigate the possible profit made by these Sarkozy links in relation to the role of the French state when he was in his former presidential post. 

Sarkozy was able to obtain a direct or indirect reward for his activity in 2010, being president of the Republic, focused on Qatar winning the right to host the World Cup in 2022, despite the criticism received by the Middle Eastern country about the little respect for civil and workers' rights and for the not very advisable conditions to play in the Arab country due to the strong heat, for example (this last fact forced to change the calendar of the competition from summer to winter).

Documents from the Elysée Palace, the contents of which were revealed by Mediapart, have already shown how hard Nicolas Sarkozy worked to get the Gulf monarchy strong support from Michel Platini, then president of UEFA and vice-president of FIFA, who was "reluctant" to make such an offer at first. The published notes indicate that the former French player and leader was persuaded during a crucial lunch at the Elysée Palace in November 2010, attended by the Emir of Qatar, Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, just nine days before the FIFA vote on the 2022 World Cup host country.

El jeque Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, emir de Qatar
PHOTO/REUTERS - Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, Emir of Qatar

Coinciding with this, as soon as he stepped down as president of the Republic after his defeat in the 2012 presidential elections, Nicolas Sarkozy reportedly prospered thanks to Qatar, as reported by Mediapart. In this regard, justice has set its sights on the promise of funding of up to 200 million euros signed in December 2012 by the Qatar Investment Authority (QIA) in favour of an investment fund, called Columbia, which Nicolas Sarkozy wanted to set up with French businessman Stéphane Courbit.

Other confidential documents which Mediapart was able to consult and to which it had access, and which are not part of the legal proceedings, now provide additional clues. These show that Nicolas Sarkozy was also hired as a lawyer, after leaving office, by two of the alleged beneficiaries of the agreement that was allegedly sealed between the French and Qatari authorities during the famous Elysée lunch in November 2010. One of them is Sébastien Bazin, former head of Colony Capital Europe who sold the Paris Saint Germain club to the QSI sovereign wealth fund of the State of Qatar in May 2011, six months after FIFA voted on the award of the World Cup, and who became head of the Accor hotel group in February 2014, hiring the law firm Claude & Sarkozy for various matters. Nicolas Sarkozy was personally "in charge" of Accor's affairs within the firm, according to internal texts consulted by Mediapart. Here it is worth remembering that, curiously, the hotel chain Accor is currently the main sponsor of the PSG. The other is Arnaud Lagardère, who also hired Sarkozy in October 2012 as part of a legal consultation in relation to QIA, six months after this fund became the Lagardère group's main shareholder. 

El emir de Qatar, Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, en la presentación del diseño del estadio Lusail, el estadio más grande de la Copa Mundial de la FIFA 2022
PHOTO/AGENCY ANATOLIA - The Emir of Qatar, Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, at the presentation of the design of the Lusail Stadium, the largest stadium of the 2022 FIFA World Cup

Sarkozy, Bazin and Lagardère have not commented on this investigation gathered by Mediapart. Neither did the Emir of Qatar or the heads of QIA and PSG, including the president of the French club, Nasser al-Khelaifi. However, from this perspective, there is talk of "manifestly false and biased accusations".

For his part, Sébastien Bazin denies, through a spokesman, having asked for Nicolas Sarkozy's help in selling the PSG to Qatar. Accor now indicates that the contracts with the firm Claude & Sarkozy were made on "normal terms", for amounts that are "confidential" but "not significant", as published by Mediapart.

Conductos de ventilación del estadio de Ciudad de la Educación de Qatar, abierto y refrigerado con una capacidad de 45.350 asientos; uno de los estadios de la Copa Mundial de 2022, en Doha, Qatar
PHOTO/AP - Ventilation ducts for Qatar's Education City Stadium, open and cooled with a capacity of 45,350 seats; one of the stadiums for the 2022 World Cup in Doha, Qatar

This operation was uncovered by another judicial investigation, the 'Air Cocaine' case, in which justice had discovered that the Lov Group, owned by businessman Stéphane Courbit, had financed private jet trips for Nicolas Sarkozy.

An investigation was opened into the abuse of the company's assets, which ended in 2016 with a dismissal. These were business trips made within the framework of the Columbia project, the aforementioned investment fund on which Courbit had partnered with Sarkozy, shortly after his defeat in the May 2012 presidential elections. The documents resulting from this procedure, whose content was revealed by Libération and whose extracts are published by Mediapart, reveal the background of the generous boost given by Qatar to the Columbia fund during a visit to the capital of Doha, where Sarkozy acted as Qatar's representative for the 2022 World Cup. 

This is the continuation of the scandals linked to Qatar as the organizer of the 2022 World Cup. Nasser al-Khelaifi, president of the PSG and president of the audiovisual group beIN Media Group (part of the sports division of the state-owned channel Al-Jazeera), will be prosecuted in Switzerland along with Jerome Valcke, former secretary general of FIFA, for corruption linked to the allocation of broadcasting rights for the 2022 World Cup. 

El emir de Qatar, Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, recibiendo a la selección nacional de fútbol de Qatar en el aeropuerto de Doha
AFP/KARIM JAAFAR - The Emir of Qatar, Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, receiving the Qatari national football team at Doha airport

The legal proceedings involving the two leaders, who are accused of mismanagement and instigation of mismanagement, document falsification and passive corruption, will begin on Sept. 14. A third subject, whose identity has not been made public, is also being charged by the Swiss justice system with active corruption in his case in relation to this matter. 

According to the Swiss Federal Prosecutor's Office, Jerome Valcke used his position between 2013 and 2015 to favour certain media groups in the allocation of television rights for international competitions such as World Cups or FIFA Confederation Cups in the period between 2018 and 2030. Allegedly receiving benefits from Nasser al-Khelaifi and the other defendant. In return, the FIFA executive received three payments amounting to 1.25 million euros, according to the prosecutor's office.

Regarding the World Cup broadcasting rights, it should also be remembered that an alleged bribe from Al-Jazeera was included, according to an investigation by The Sunday Times. The British media indicated that Qatar, through Al-Jazeera, paid 880 million dollars to FIFA for its World Cup, according to its own sources; thus violating the financial rules of the World Cup bidding process. 

According to leaked documents, just three weeks before Qatar was given the honour of hosting the 2022 World Cup, Al-Jazeera had offered world football's governing body a lucrative secret television deal, which included a $100 million fee if Qatar won the rights to host the World Cup. In this respect, the contract appeared to be a clear violation of FIFA's own rules and regulations.