After a day of police questioning centering on his former role as a top decision-maker in soccer, Michel Platini was released from custody without charge in the early hours of Wednesday and said he found the experience painful given “everything I’ve done” in the sport.
Summoned Tuesday morning to testify in a French corruption investigation of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, the former head of European soccer governing body UEFA said he had been expecting to be questioned only as witness, as he’d also done 18 months previously.
“I arrived and was immediately taken into custody. It hurts. It hurts for everything I can think of, everything I’ve done. It hurts, it hurts. But after all, they did their job and then we tried to answer all the questions,” he said.
The former star midfielder for France and Juventus said investigators quizzed him about an array of tournaments, including the 2016 European Championship, the World Cups in Russia in 2018 and in Qatar in 2022, that he had a hand in deciding where they would be played, when he presided at UEFA and served as a vice-president at world soccer governing body FIFA. The investigators also asked about French club Paris Saint-Germain, bought by Qatar in 2011.
“It was long, but given the number of questions it could not be different,” Platini said, adding that he felt “at peace.”
“I feel totally foreign to any of these matters. This is an old affair, you know it, we explained it. I have always expressed myself with full transparency in all the newspapers. That’s it, it goes on, they investigate, they search.”
Also detained Tuesday for questioning and later released was Sophie Dion, a sports adviser in former French president Nicolas Sarkozy’s administration. Claude Gueant, the former secretary general of the Elysee presidential palace under Sarkozy, was questioned as a free witness and not detained.
Their involvement added a layer of political intrigue to the investigation of the hugely controversial decision to hold soccer’s showcase tournament in Qatar, a desert country so scorchingly hot in June and July that matches will be played instead in November and December.
The closed-door, secret-ballot FIFA vote in 2010 that picked Qatar baffled many at the time, not least because the Persian Gulf nation has no soccer pedigree to speak of. But the gas-rich nation is pouring billions into the world’s most popular sport and has the means to finance new stadiums.
Ahead of the FIFA vote, Sarkozy hosted a meeting in November 2010 that brought Platini together with Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, then the crown prince of Qatar and now its ruling emir. The following year, Qatar bought Paris Saint-Germain and started spending richly on recruiting stars, including, now, Kylian Mbappe and Neymar. Sarkozy, a fan, frequently attends PSG games.
Platini’s lawyer, William Bourdon, called the day-long detention “a lot of noise for nothing” and said Platini “gave his testimony by answering as sincerely and precisely as he could, to all the questions put to him.”
He added: “We do not believe in any way that Michel Platini can be considered as a suspect for anything, either yesterday or today or tomorrow. So for us, this affair is over.”
French prosecutors are investigating an array of winning bids for major sports events, including the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo and track and field world championships. Cascading scandals in soccer, track and field and Olympic sport have brought down dozens of officials from FIFA and other organizations over such offenses as vote-buying, kickbacks and bribery.
Qatar beat the long-favored United States 14-8 when FIFA selected the host country for the 2022 World Cup.
Former FIFA President Sepp Blatter, who presided over the vote, has accused Platini of backing out of a secret “gentleman’s agreement” to award the tournament to the United States after meeting with Sarkozy, France’s president at the time.
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 told the AP in 2015. 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.
Blatter quoted Platini as saying ahead of the vote: “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.”
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