Qatar World Cup bidding targeted by French probe

Former FIFA president Sepp Blatter. (AFP/Getty Images)

French prosecutors are investigating how football’s governing body came to award the 2018 and 2022 World Cup hosting rights to Russia and Qatar, Le Monde said.

The French action would follow similar inquiries into the controversial 2010 vote by American and Swiss authorities. The French probe is being led by a unit specialising in economic crimes, the newspaper said Thursday, without citing where it got the information.

France’s ministry of justice didn’t immediately respond to calls or an e-mail outside of office hours. Qatar and Russia’s bid teams have long denied any wrongdoing in their successful campaigns to host the world’s most-watch event.

FIFA, the sport’s governing body, has been engulfed in crisis since 22 members of its executive board chose the future World Cup hosts. Several senior officials responsible for the awards were named in the indictment by US authorities that almost led to FIFA’s collapse in 2015. They were accused of crimes including money-laundering and racketeering over television and marketing rights.

Since then, FIFA has lost almost all of its senior management, including longtime former President Joseph “Sepp” Blatter, who hasn’t faced charges in the US but is under investigation in his native Switzerland. Authorities there and in the US have said they are looking into the World Cup vote.

In the competition for the 2022 tournament, the American bid lost in a runoff to Qatar, a tiny, gas-rich emirate without a soccer heritage. It’s pledged to spend $200 billion on readying itself for the tournament.

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