The allegations are being made by England’s 2018 World Cup bid committee, which, according to the Sunday Times, gathered intelligence “from a network of British embassies and private intelligence firms staffed by former MI6 officers” over the course of two years about the Russian bid. The information was then revealed in “a dossier published by parliament.”
If true, the contents of the report are damning for Russia. The Sunday Times writes:
It reports how England’s bid officials were warned that Vladimir Putin, then the Russian prime minister, had “cranked up . . . the operation” months before the secret ballot and was alleged to have tasked a trusted cabal of oligarchs with doing “deniable” deals to win the support of FIFA voters.
Some of those “deniable” acts, according to the Sunday Times, included the handing out of high-priced art to FIFA voters, including a painting believed to be by Pablo Picasso to UEFA’s Platini and an additional landscape painting to FIFA voting member Michel D’Hooghe of Belgium. The latter painting was said to be wrapped in a paper bag and given to D’Hooghe by Vyacheslav Koloskov, a former FIFA vice president and Russia 2018 World Cup committee member.
D’Hooghe, who is reportedly being investigated along with four others by FIFA in a new corruption probe connected to the World Cup bids, confirmed the receipt of the painting to the Sunday Times, but noted he thought it held no monetary value. He also said it was “absolutely ugly” and added that he did not vote for Russia to win the 2018 bid.
Platini, however, denies the allegation that he was given a Picasso painting from Putin.
“Allegations in the Sunday Times relating to my actions in the 2018 and 2022 bidding processes are total fabrications,” Platini told CNN. “The matter has now been passed to my legal advisers.”
Officials from Russia’s bid committee also denied any wrongdoing, telling CNN in a statement:
“Russia 2018 categorically rejects all of the allegations made in the Sunday Times today as entirely unfounded speculation.
“These allegations are not new, but the evidence has only ever indicated that Russia 2018 behaved professionally and fairly throughout the bidding process.
“The Russia 2018 Bid Committee operated in full compliance with the spirit and letter of FIFA’s Code of Ethics, and sought to abide by the FIFA bidding guidelines at all times.
“This kind of speculation will not affect Russia 2018′s focus on doing what we have been doing for nearly four years already: making great progress towards our objective of hosting the best ever FIFA World Cup in 2018.”
The Sunday Times report comes less than a month after FIFA released a summary of the findings from an independent investigation into corruption behind the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bids. The summary cleared both Russia and the 2022 winner Qatar of any wrongdoing, but found improprieties in the losing bids of England (which lost to Russia) and Australia (which lost to Qatar).