UEFA 'knowingly helped' PSG and Man City get around financial fair play rules
UEFA helped Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City get around their own Financial Fair Play (FPP) rules, according to revelations published Friday. Yann Philippin, co-author of the Mediapart investigation, spoke to FRANCE 24 about his discoveries.
The revelations are the first in a series of articles that will be published over the coming days about “dirty deals” in the football world. The investigations are based on data from the Football Leaks platform, which provided “more than 70 million documents” to 15 different European news organisations.
According to the documents analysed “over eight months by 80 journalists” from members of the European Investigative Collaborations (EIC), UEFA "knowingly helped the clubs to cover up their own irregularities for 'political reasons'" under the leadership of Michel Platini and Gianni Infantino.
Football Leaks claims that between them Qatar and Abu Dhabi have injected some €4.5 billion ($5.1 billion) over the last seven years to increase the budgets of the clubs they own.
Of that figure, €2.7 billion has been invested in Manchester City via their Abu Dhabi owners and from allegedly "overestimated" sponsorship deals.
Football Leaks also points the finger at PSG's five-year agreement with the Qatar Tourism Authority (QTA), worth €1.075 billion, or €215 million a year.
The most generous estimate made by independent auditors assigned by UEFA valued the contract at only €2.8 million a year.
UEFA rules say clubs cannot spend more than they earn in any given season and deficits must fall within a €30 million limit over three seasons.
But despite the audit, both clubs, owned and bankrolled by wealth from Qatar and Abu Dhabi respectively, have avoided the most severe FFP punishment of being excluded from the UEFA Champions League.
PSG and City were each fined €60 million by UEFA in May 2014, but both were told they would get €40 million back if they stuck to the terms of their settlement.
French investigative website Mediapart claims Infantino – the current FIFA president who was then UEFA's general secretary – "directly negotiated an agreement with Manchester City", bypassing the Financial Control Panel of European football's governing body. His proposal was for a "fine of €20 million instead of 60."
“Internal investigations by independent investigators found the fraud,” Yann Philippin, co-author Mediapart’s report, told FRANCE 24. “But instead of sanctioning the clubs… Infantino and Platini negotiated very favourable settlements with the clubs behind the backs of investigators.”
Reputedly included in copy in emails sent by Infantino to City's chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak was former French president and PSG fan Nicolas Sarkozy, who also reputedly helped City's Abu Dhabi owners in their attempts to get around FFP rules.
Sarkozy's press officer responded to Mediapart by saying that "as a lawyer, Nicolas Sarkozy provided no counsel to the people you mention".
Asked for a reaction by Mediapart, City said "the attempt to damage the reputation of the club is organised and clear".
'No secret agreement'
Late Friday, FIFA blasted the claims as an attempt to "undermine the leadership" of the global body.
"It seems obvious from the 'reporting' carried out in some media outlets that there is only one particular aim – an attempt to undermine the new leadership of FIFA and, in particular, the President, Gianni Infantino, and the Secretary General, Fatma Samoura."
Infantino added in a statement: "It is always a challenge to change things, to move forward, and to bring people together in order to do things better.
"And, as we are resolutely implementing the reforms at FIFA, it was always clear to me that I would face strong opposition, especially from those who cannot anymore shamelessly profit from the system they were part of."
PSG said in a statement that they have "always strictly complied with all applicable laws and regulations and firmly denies the allegations published today by Mediapart".
The club's delegate director general Jean-Claude Blanc later told AFP that "there was no secret agreement with UEFA, everything was done with the most complete transparency."
But Mediapart journalist Philippin stands by his investigation. “We’re totally confident about this for several reasons,” he told FRANCE 24. “We published a first wave of investigations in December of 2016. Not a single document was proven to be false, and we have not had a single lawsuit all over Europe about the content of the information we published."
"The second reason is that we’ve been working for eight months on this. We haven’t relied only on the documents. We crosschecked everything. We talked to several people, and finally we confronted everybody. PSG and Manchester City have had our questions for a month. You would imagine that if there were fake news among our questions, they would have told us, and they didn’t.”
PSG have been the subject of another UEFA investigation since they signed Neymar from Barcelona for a world-record €222 million ($264 million) in August 2017.
In late September UEFA said it had referred the accusations against the Paris club to its financial unit "for further investigation". PSG's case, though, is complicated by their sponsorship deals with the Qatar National Bank as well as the QTA.
UEFA indicated that the aim of FFP rules was "to help clubs become viable financially...and to punish them only as a last resort".
Infantino meanwhile defended himself by saying it was possible for the independent body in charge of investigating FFP breaches to be helped by "the administration of UEFA, which of course includes the secretary general".
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)