Did Vladimir Putin Bribe FIFA Executive with Picasso Painting?
The world of international soccer was rocked Wednesday morning when seven officials from its governing body, FIFA, were arrested, and many more indicted, by US and Swiss authorities in Zurich on charges of racketeering, fraud, and money laundering as part of an investigation that the US Justice Department has declared has only just begun. But what does this have to do with art?
It’s alleged that soccer authorities systemically took personal bribes, some $150 million according to the New York Times, to sway their decision-making about things like who would get to televise games, who would oversee the worldwide soccer organization, and who would get to host the World Cup.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin was accused this past December by England’s 2018 World Cup bid committee of having bribed Michel Platini, the president of the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) and FIFA executive committee member with a painting by Pablo Picasso in exchange for voting for Russia to stage the next World Cup. The painting was reportedly taken from the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg.
According to the report in the Sunday Times, the committee got its information about the Russian bid “from a network of British embassies and private intelligence firms staffed by former MI6 officers” and was disclosed in a dossier that parliament published.
Perhaps it’s because the Russian President has a greater vested interest in Russia hosting the 2018 World Cup than previously thought.
Platini denied the accusations at the time, telling CNN, “Allegations in the Sunday Times relating to my actions in the 2018 and 2022 bidding processes are total fabrications.” Platini was in the news yesterday for his request that FIFA president Sepp Blatter step down in the wake of the corruption claims.
Putin is also alleged to have bribed Belgian FIFA official Michel D’Hooghe with a landscape painting. The canvas by an unnamed artist was reportedly given to D’Hooghe wrapped in a paper bag by Russia 2018 World Cup committee member and former FIFA vice-president Vyacheslav Koloskov.
D’Hooghe denied voting for Russia 2018 and called the painting “absolutely ugly.”
Following the report the Russian bid committee released a statement insisting “Russia 2018 categorically rejects all of the allegations made in the Sunday Times today as entirely unfounded speculation.”
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