Platini detained as part of 2022 World Cup probe
Michel Platini, the former UEFA president, was detained in Paris early on Tuesday morning as part of an investigation into alleged corruption in the Qatar 2022 World Cup bidding process.
The detention and questioning of the former French football star was first reported by French investigative website Mediapart and has since been confirmed to ESPN FC by judicial sources. However, he has denied any wrongdoing.
His public relations team says the former UEFA president is "absolutely confident'' and has "strictly nothing to reproach himself with.'' His PR team added that Platini was also quizzed on the awarding of the 2016 European Championship to France.
The statement read: "Michel Platini expresses himself serenely and precisely, answering all the questions, including those on the conditions for the awarding of Euro 2016, and has provided useful explanations.''
Platini, UEFA president from 2007-15, was taken to a cell at the Anti-Corruption Office of the Judicial Police, in the western suburbs of Paris. The former Juventus and France No. 10 faces an investigation into his role and influence over the attribution of the 2022 World Cup to Qatar. Claude Gueant, the former general secretary of the Elysee Palace under president Nicolas Sarkozy, will be questioned but not while under arrest.
Sophie Dion, the former sports advisor to Sarkozy in 2010 has also been arrested and placed in custody.
On Tuesday afternoon, Platini's lawyer released a statement insisting that his client "has nothing to feel guilty about and maintained that he is totally uninvolved with those events that are beyond him."
It is the first time Platini, 63, has been placed in custody regarding the attribution of the 2022 World Cup.
However, he had already been questioned in the preliminary investigation which was opened in May 2015 and is supported by the U.S. and Swiss judicial authorities.
In December 2017, his houses in Nyon in Switzerland and in Saint-Cloud, near Paris, were searched, his bank statements examined and the investigators also went through everything he owns of value. But he has never been charged. His custody could last up to 48 hours and he is allowed to consult his lawyer William Bourbon who is on site.
At the time of the vote in December 2010, Platini was UEFA president and publicly backed the Qatar bid. He had a direct vote in the elections as a member of the FIFA executive committee which back then was electing the World Cup hosts. Many stories linking Platini and the Gulf emirate have emerged since then, including a meeting on November 23 2010 with Mohamed Bin Hammam, the former Asian Football Confederation president who lobbied for Qatar and has since been banned from football for life on corruption charges.
Platini also had lunch the same day at the Elysee Palace with Sarkozy, Gueant, Dion, Bin Hammam and Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, the Qatar Prime Minister at the time and now the Emir.
Sources have told ESPN Platini will face a lot of questions regarding this lunch. He will also be asked about his relationship with Sarkozy, who according to many allegations played a big part in Qatar obtaining the organisation of the 2022 World Cup.
Qatar beat the United States, Australia, South Korea and Japan for the right to host the 2022 tournament, but the vote was mired in controversy. Platini, who has always denied any wrongdoing, was banned over a 2 million swiss francs ($2m) "disloyal payment" from then FIFA president Sepp Blatter, who also has denied wrongdoing. Blatter resigned in 2015, and at the time of his resignation, he said: "FIFA needs profound restructuring."
In various interviews, he also accused "Sarkozy and Platini to have been game-changers" in regards of the 2022 bid process. According to ESPN sources, Blatter could also be questioned soon again by the investigators, like he was in April 2017.
Platini fought to reduce an eight-year ban from football activities imposed by FIFA in the wake of the corruption scandal in 2015 and eventually saw his suspension reduced to four years, meaning he can return to the game in October. He said last year that he wanted to return to football.
In May 2018, he was cleared of any wrongdoings regarding the 2022 World Cup bid by a Switzerland judge.
On June 5, FIFA president Gianni Infantino, who succeeded Blatter, was reelected unopposed to serve a second term and said: "Today, on an election day, nobody talks about crisis. Nobody talks about rebuilding FIFA from scratch. Nobody talks about scandals. Nobody talks about corruption."
Platini's lawyer William Bourdon was not immediately available for comment. Meanwhile, the lawyer for Gueant was not immediately available for comment, and a spokeswoman for Sarkozy declined to comment. Under French law, suspects can be held for questioning for up to 48 hours.
The tournament in Qatar will be the 22nd edition of the World Cup and is due to kick off on Nov. 21, 2022.
Information from Associated Press and Reuters was used in this report.