UEFA under the leadership of Michel Platini and Gianni Infantino helped Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City get around their own Financial Fair Play (FFP) rules, according to a Football Leaks investigation published on Friday.
According to the investigation of “more than 70 million documents” analysed “over eight months by 80 journalists” from members of European Investigative Collaborations (EIC), UEFA “knowingly helped the clubs to cover up their own irregularities for ‘political reasons’”.
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.
Football Leaks claims that between them Qatar and Abu Dhabi have injected some 4.5 billion euros ($5.1 billion) over the last seven years to increase the budgets of the clubs they own.
Of that figure, 2.7 billion euros has been invested in 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), valued at 1.075 billion euros, or 215 million euros a year.
That is despite the investigation claiming that “two independent auditors assigned by UEFA valued the contract at… 123,000 euros per year for one, and 2.8 million euros a year for the other”.
UEFA rules say clubs cannot spend more than they earn in any given season and deficits must fall within a 30 million-euro limit over three seasons.
Both PSG and City were fined 60 million euros by UEFA in May 2014, but both were told they would get 40 million euros 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 euros instead of 60.”
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.”
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.”
PSG have been the subject of another UEFA investigation since they signed Neymar from Barcelona for a world-record 222 million euros ($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”.
Infantino is now at the head of FIFA, and Football Leaks also shone a light on his relationship with a Swiss prosecutor called Rinaldo Arnold.
The investigation said “invitations” were given to Arnold for World Cup and Champions League matches and a FIFA Congress in 2016, while Infantino was provided with details of ongoing investigations.
“According to FIFA’s internal directives and regulations, the President and the Secretary General are entitled to invite a number of guests to FIFA tournaments and events,” the world football’s governing body told AFP.