Sarkozy cost United States World Cup: Blatter

Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy was the reason Qatar won the right to host the 2022 World Cup instead of the United States, who had been favourites, disgraced Fifa president Sepp Blatter has claimed.

Sarkozy cost United States World Cup: Blatter
Sepp Blatter and Nicolas Sarkozy. Photo: AFP

Suspended FIFA president Sepp Blatter has repeated claims that government interference from then French president Nicolas Sarkozy resulted in Qatar rather than the United States being awarded the right to host the 2022 World Cup.

Speaking to Friday's edition of Britain's Financial Times, Blatter repeated the claims he made on Wednesday to Russian news agency TASS that FIFA's executive committee had originally agreed to award the 2018 tournament to Russia and the next World Cup to the United States.

Blatter told the FT that there had been a “gentleman's agreement” that the two World Cups in question would go to the “two superpowers”.

“It was behind the scenes. It was diplomatically arranged to go there,” said Blatter, who has found himself at the centre of a FIFA corruption storm ever since being re-elected to a fifth term in May.

However, as he stated on Wednesday, Blatter, who is set to stand down after February's FIFA presidential election, said Sarkozy's influence moved the goalposts.

“Just one week before the election I got a telephone call from Platini and he said, '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'. And he told me that this will affect more than one vote because he had a group of voters.”

Platini, the suspended UEFA chief, admitted to voting for Qatar at the election in December 2010 when the World Cups were awarded to Russia and the tiny desert kingdom, but denied doing so on the orders of Sarkozy, who was French president from 2007-2012, despite the latter having not long beforehand invited him to dinner with the future Qatari emir, Tamim ben Hamad al Thani, then the prince of Qatar.

Speaking to French 24-hour news channel BFMTV on Thursday, Sarkozy also denied using his influence to affect the World Cup vote.

“There you go, once again someone who attributes great power to me,” said Sarkozy from Moscow where he was meeting with Russian president Vladimir Putin.

“That was not my aim, nor was it to manage PSG, nor to attribute the World Cup to anyone in particular,” he added ironically.

“But you thank him (Blatter) nonetheless from me. It was doubtless a reference that points to his very great friendship with Michel Platini.”

Blatter told TASS on Wednesday that after the Franco-Qatari summit, “four European votes deserted the United States and the result was 14-8 (to Qatar)”.

Otherwise, according to Blatter, the United States would have won the right to host the World Cup by 12 votes to 10 following the supposedly secret ballot in 2010.

Earlier this month, both Blatter and Platini, who is a FIFA vice-president as well as running European football, were suspended by FIFA's independent ethics committee for 90 days as part of a wide-ranging investigation into corruption at the heart of world football's governing body.

Those suspensions are related to a 1.8 million euro ($2 million) payment made by FIFA to Platini in 2011 for consultancy work carried out several years earlier.

Both parties deny there was anything untoward in the payment, for which there was no written contract, despite the inexplicable delay.

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Corruption trial begins for France’s ex president Sarkozy

Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy goes on trial on Monday on charges of trying to bribe a judge, in what could be a humiliating postscript to a political career tainted by a litany of legal investigations.

Corruption trial begins for France's ex president Sarkozy
Nicolas Sarkozy. Photo: AFP

Though he is not the first modern head of state in the dock – his predecessor and political mentor Jacques Chirac was convicted of embezzlement – Sarkozy is the first to face corruption charges.

He fought furiously over the past six years to have the case thrown out, and has denounced “a scandal that will go down in history”.

“I am not a crook,” the 65-year-old, whose combative style has made him one of France's most popular rightwing politicians, told BFM TV this month.

Prosecutors say Sarkozy promised the judge a plush job in Monaco in exchange for inside information on an inquiry into claims that Sarkozy accepted illicit payments from L'Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt for his 2007 presidential campaign.

Their case rests in large part on wiretaps of phone conversations between Sarkozy and his longtime lawyer Thierry Herzog, which judges authorised as prosecutors also looked into suspected Libyan financing of Sarkozy's 2007 campaign.

That inquiry is still underway, though Sarkozy caught a break this month when his main accuser, the French-Lebanese businessman Ziad Takieddine, suddenly retracted his claim of delivering millions of euros in cash from Libyan dictator Moamer Kadhafi.

Sarkozy and Herzog have assailed the taps on their phones as a breach of client-attorney privilege, but in 2016 a top court upheld their use as evidence.

Charged with bribery and influence peddling, Sarkozy risks a prison sentence of up to 10 years and a maximum fine of €1 million.

Herzog, a leading member of the Paris bar, faces the same charges as well as violation of professional secrecy. The trial is expected to last three weeks.

'A boost'

Investigators discovered that Sarkozy used an alias – Paul Bismuth – to buy a private phone for conversing secretly with his lawyer.

On around a dozen occasions, they discussed reaching out to a top French judge, Gilbert Azibert, a general counsel at the Cour de Cassation, France's top appeals court for criminal and civil cases.

Prosecutors say Azibert, who is also on trial, was tasked with trying to obtain information from the Cour de Cassation lawyer in charge of the Bettencourt inquiry, and to induce him to seek a verdict in Sarkozy's favour.

In exchange, Sarkozy would use his extensive contacts to give “a boost” to Azibert's efforts to secure the cushy Monaco post.

“He's been working on it,” Herzog tells Sarkozy in a call from early 2014.
Azibert was already considered a leading candidate for the job, but “if you give him a boost, it's always better,” Herzog says in another.

“I'll make him move up,” Sarkozy tells Herzog, according to the indictment by prosecutors, who compared his actions to those of a “seasoned offender”.

But later, Sarkozy tells his lawyer that he would not “approach” the  Monaco authorities on Azibert's behalf — a sign, according to prosecutors, that the two men had been tipped off about the wiretaps.

“Mr Azibert never got any post in Monaco,” Sarkozy told BFM television this month – though under French law, just an offer or promise can constitute corruption.

Still in limelight

Sarkozy, a lawyer by training, has long accused the French judiciary of waging a vendetta against him, not least because of his attempts to limit judges' powers and criticism that they are too soft on delinquents.

He will again be back in court in March 2021 along with 13 other people over claims of campaign finance violations during his unsuccessful 2012 re-election bid.

Prosecutors accuse Sarkozy's team of using a fake-invoices scheme orchestrated by the public relations firm Bygmalion to spend nearly €43 million on the lavish run – nearly twice the legal limit.

The long-running legal travails hindered his comeback bid for the 2017 presidential vote, losing out as the rightwing nominee to his former prime minister François Fillon.

Yet like other former French presidents, Sarkozy has surfed a wave of popularity since announcing his retirement from politics in 2018, pressing the flesh with enthusiastic crowds at his public appearances.

Lines of fans queued over the summer to have him sign his latest memoirs, “The Time of Storms”, which topped best-seller lists for weeks.

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