13th October 2017

Swiss charges against Nasser al-Khelaifi risk implicating Qatar in corruption

The Swiss Office of the Attorney General (OAG) said that it had searched a number of properties yesterday, after opening a new investigation on 20 March into former FIFA Secretary General Jérôme Valcke and Nasser al-Khelaifi of BeIn Media Group concerning the award of FIFA World Cup media rights. The OAG said that it was investigating Al-Khelaifi on suspicion of bribery of private individuals, fraud, criminal mismanagement and forgery of a document. However, connections between Al-Khelaifi and Qatari state owned authorities also risk pulling Qatar’s ruling family into the crosshairs of Swiss investigators.

‘It is suspected that Jérôme Valcke accepted undue advantages from a businessman in the sports rights sector in connection with the award of media rights for certain countries at the FIFA World Cups in 2018, 2022, 2026 and 2030 and from Nasser Al-Khelaifi in connection with the award of media rights for certain countries at the FIFA World Cups in 2026 and 2030’, read a statement. The OAG said that as a result of an interview with Valcke on 12 October, properties were searched in various locations in cooperation with authorities in France, Greece, Italy, and Spain. The OAG said that the new March 2017 proceeding was opened due to the findings of an earlier March 2016 ongoing investigation into Valcke.

Through his chairing of Qatar Sports Investments (QSI), Nasser al-Khelaifi is Chairman of French football club Paris Saint Germain (PSG). There are also questions about whether QSI is linked to the Qatari government. QSI was founded by Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani, current Emir of Qatar, reports the BBC. His father, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa bin Hamad bin Abdullah bin Jassim bin Mohammed Al Thani, established the state owned Qatar Investment Authority (QIA).

It is understood that his son, Sheikh Tamim Al Thani, chose Al-Khelaifi to head QSI. Wikipedia reports that Al-Khelaifi is also a Director of the Qatar 2022 LOC and is also a government minister, however a full list of the members of the Qatar 2022 LOC is not available on either FIFA’s internet site, nor that of the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, which is responsible for delivering the 2022 World Cup. Sheikh Tamim Al Thani is also a Member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

As The Sports Integrity Initiative reported in November last year, QSI described itself as a ‘100% Qatari private shareholding company’ that is designed to generate revenues to be ‘reinvested into Qatar’s sport, leisure and entertainment sectors to benefit the community as a whole’. This description has been changed on the English version of its internet site, but is still available using the Arabic version.

Concern about links between the State and QSI have recently intensified, after PSG came under renewed financial fair play scrutiny due to its record purchase of Neymar from FC Barcelona. QSI is understood to be an arm of state owned QIA, although reports which suggest that QIA bought 70% of PSG in 2011 – and not QSI – appear to have been wiped from the internet. PSG and QSI’s internet sites have no record of the deal.

A statement from Colony Capital, which sold 70% of its ownership in the French club in the 2011 deal, said that an agreement had been reached with a ‘Qatari investment company’. Shortly after the deal, State-funded Al Jazeera invested a large amount of money into France’s Ligue 1 through an increased TV rights deal. BeIn later took over the rights following its 2012 launch.

In 2012, PSG signed a €200 million per year sponsorship deal with the Qatar Tourism Authority (QTA). In a 2014 settlement with UEFA’s Club Financial Control Body, regulators said that PSG and QTA – a State owned organisation – had artificially inflated the value of the deal, which it put at €100 million.

Further evidence of an apparent link between QIA and QSI is provided by BeIn Media Group’s profile of Al-Khelaifi. The Arabic version of the site lists him as a board member of the state owned Qatar Investment Authority (QIA) since 2015, whereas the English version neglects to mention this.

‘BeIn Media Group refutes all allegations made by OAG’, read a statement. ‘The company will fully cooperate with the authorities and is confident as to the future developments of this investigation’.

“FIFA fully supports the investigation conducted by the Swiss Office of the Attorney General‎ as well as the other involved authorities that has become public today”, said a FIFA spokesperson. “FIFA has constituted itself as a damaged party in this investigation, in line with the applicable provisions of Swiss procedural law.‎ No further comments can be made by FIFA at this stage in view of the fact that the investigation by the authorities is ongoing.”

Many causes for concern

Obviously, the very serious allegations that Al-Khelaifi bribed Valcke in connection to the TV rights to the 2026 and 2030 World Cups is a cause for concern. So is the revelation that ‘a businessman in the sports rights sector’ offered Valcke ‘undue advantages’ in connection with the media rights to the FIFA World Cups from 2018 to 2030.

Also of concern is the apparent concealment of Al-Khelaifi’s involvement as a Director of the state owned Qatar Investment Authority (QIA). As Al-Khelaifi is also Chairman of Qatar Sports Investments (QSI), this also raises concerns as to state involvement in financing Paris Saint German (PSG), and the club’s world record purchase of Neymar.

The lack of information about who, exactly, sits on the board of the Local Organising Committee (LOC) of the FIFA 2022 World Cup Qatar is a cause for concern. It has widely been reported that Al-Khelaifi is a member of the LOC, but there is no way to verify this. What we do know is that Al-Khelaifi is a Director of the QIA, which is headed by Sheikh Abdullah bin Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, the Deputy Emir of the State of Qatar and successor to (and half brother of) the current Emir, IOC member Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani, the IOC member. Other members of the Al-Thani family act as both the Managing Director and Secretary General of the LOC for Qatar 2022, and Hassan Al Thwadi is a Special Advisor to the Organising Committee for the FIFA World Cup, due to his position as of the Local Organising Committee (LOC) for Qatar 2022.

The Sports Integrity Initiative recently reported how the suspension of the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) illustrated the hypocrisy of FIFA’s rules on political independence. Given the situation outlined above, that now appears to be light reading…

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