World Cup winner Paul Pogba paid 100,000 euros [NZ$163,000] to an organized group that included his brother that was trying to extort millions from him, French officials said Wednesday.
French prosecutors are investigating allegations that Pogba was the target of extortion by his brother Mathias Pogba and childhood friends. They demanded 13 million euros [NZ$21.2 million] of the France midfielder, and repeatedly bullied him, claiming that he did not support them after becoming an international soccer star.
An official close to the investigation confirmed to The Associated Press on Wednesday that Pogba told investigators he had already paid 100,000 euros. The official spoke on condition of anonymity in accordance with official practice during an ongoing investigation.
According to French media reports, Paul Pogba told investigators that the extortionists wanted to discredit him by claiming that he asked a witch doctor to cast a spell on another French star, Kylian Mbappe. Paul Pogba denied the accusation.
Mathias Pogba appeared to address the witch doctor’s claim on Monday in a Twitter post, directed at Mbappe: “Kylian, do you get it now? I have nothing against you, what I say is for your own good, everything is true and it is known, the witch doctor is known!
Mbappé has not responded and has not commented on the scandal that appears to stem from a family dispute.
The president of the French Football Federation, Noel Le Graet, downplayed the scandal involving two of France’s stars four months before the World Cup.
“These are just rumors at the moment,” Le Graet said in an interview with Radio Monte Carlo on Monday. Regarding Paul Pogba, who is currently sidelined with a knee injury, Le Graet added: “I love Paul. I hope that this does not put in doubt his place (in the World Cup) in the French team”.
The case became public after Mathias Pogba posted on social media last weekend threatening to share “explosive” revelations about his brother, Paul’s agent Rafaela Pimenta and Mbappe. In Instagram videos, Mathias appeared to be reading a statement in Italian, Spanish, English and French promising “big reveals.”
“This whole thing is likely to be explosive,” Mathias added.
French public broadcaster BFM reported on Wednesday that Paul Pogba made the payment in April after masked and armed men threatened him in a Paris apartment in March while he was in France for national team matches.
The group also made demands of Paul at the Juventus training center in Turin. He said Mathias was among them, according to reports from France-Info, also a public broadcaster.
In response, Paul released a statement through his lawyer saying his brother’s claims were “in addition to threats and extortion attempts by an organized gang against Paul Pogba.”
The Paris prosecutor’s office said on Monday it had opened an investigation this month into attempted organized extortion, which is being handled by anti-corruption police. It would not provide further details about an ongoing investigation.
Paul Pogba, 29, won the World Cup with France in 2018 and returned to Juventus this summer after six seasons at Manchester United. Mathias Pogba, three years his senior, is also a footballer who has spent most of his career with youth teams in Europe.