The French authorities have opened a corruption investigation into the circumstances that led to Qatar being awarded the 2022 World Cup.
The investigation, which will be led by a judge, follows a three-year operation by prosecutors specialising in financial crimes into the decision made in December 2010.
More than half of the 22 members of world football governing body FIFA’s executive committee who voted have since been either accused of corruption or prosecuted for it.
The French investigators have particularly focused on the case because of a meeting that took place at the Elysee Palace, the official residence of France’s President, a month before the vote.
It was there that Nicolas Sarkozy, the then French leader, and two close aides had lunch with Michel Platini, the former head of UEFA and an influential voter in the choice of World Cup venues, and Qatar’s then prime minister.
Platini claims he was shocked to see Sheikh Tamim Hamad Al Thani, who is now Qatar’s Emir, in the room, and had attended only to inform Sarkozy that he had decided to pick Qatar as host.
A spokesman for France’s financial crimes prosecutor confirmed the investigation, first reported by investigative news website Mediapart, but declined to comment further, citing secrecy rules.
Platini has since been questioned twice by the authorities and most recently, he was detained in June, along with the two aides to Sarkozy present at the lunch.
Days earlier, in an interview with the New York Times, he claimed that he had done nothing wrong.
Separately, FIFA plans to sue him to recover two million Swiss francs (S$2.76 million) he allegedly received illegally years ago.
Qatar has issued strong denials of corruption since the day it was picked to host the World Cup. But that has not stopped a string of allegations and claims over how the wealthy, gas-rich country managed to convince FIFA’s board members that it was more suitable than rival bidders.
The latest reminder came earlier this month. A FIFA document, outlining a life ban to the former head of Brazilian football Ricardo Teixeira for bribery, included witness testimony from last year that alleged three South Americans were paid vast sums for their votes.
But Qatar’s World Cup organisers said in a statement: “We maintain that we conducted our bid ethically and with integrity, strictly adhering to all rules and regulations.”