England's World Cup bid association recruited an ex-MI6 officer to spy on Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich in an attempt to uncover alleged corruption in the battle to win the hosting rights to the 2018 and 2022 Fifa World Cup tournaments, reports The Independent.
In a story reminiscent of the Cold War–the golden age of espionage–the report claims that England officials employed a private security firm to infiltrate the bidding process of Russia when Vladimir Putin became directly involved in the effort.
The Russian president called on a “select group of oligarchs” to use their vast array of contacts to make sure their bid succeeded. Always one to jump on a public relations opportunity, Putin saw winning the bid as another show of power from the former Soviet state.
“Roman was absolutely integral to the Russian bid”
He was also concerned that losing the bid would have been humiliating for the country and set to make sure that Sepp Blatter and his merry band of executives voted Russia's way. Abramovich was part of the team set up to make sure Blatter was convinced.
“Roman was absolutely integral to the Russian bid,” an ex-MI6 source is quoted in the same report as saying. “I remember seeing him attending private meetings with [the Fifa chief] Sepp Blatter in South Africa and thinking to myself, ‘We don’t do that, so we are f***ed’.”
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He added: “Roman was very visible. Any suggestion that he paid money, I don’t know. The way he operates you’d never find out.”
The report, taken from a 13-page dossier published by the Sunday Times, includes claims that Fifa officials took bribes from pro-Russian parties and agreed to illicit vote-swapping. There is no evidence to suggest that Abramovich was involved in any such activities.
Britain's embassies were also asked to collect information from inside the country that was fed onto encrypted databases. They were able to track Russia's 2018 bid team as they traversed the globe in an attempt to lobby votes.
The report also claims that Russia's bid team started to corrupt the process in 2010 shortly after Putin became directly involved in the bid. Almost laughably, their activities are thought to have included their own team of spies, hired to dig into England's bid.
Russia's team were advised to sweep every room for bugs and to lock up phones to avoid calls to powerbrokers being tracked.
A spokesman for the Stamford Bridge chief, who bought Chelsea in 2003, told the same report that nothing “untoward” was conducted during his involvement in the bidding process.
“The bid was never going to win because of the corruption on the other side”
Finally, the report claims that Qatar and Russia agreed to vote for each other as part of a deal that saw a huge gas extraction project in Siberia brokered.
“The bid was never going to win because of the corruption on the other side,” according to an ex-MI6 source quoted in the newspaper’s document. “It was the scale of the defeat that was the shock.”