Hints of French scandal swirl around new Qatari PM

The allegations could be embarrassing to Paris but also to Doha and its Parisian networks.
Thursday 30/01/2020
Qatar’s Prime Minister Sheikh Khalid bin Khalifa bin Abdulaziz Al-Thani.
Qatar’s Prime Minister Sheikh Khalid bin Khalifa bin Abdulaziz Al-Thani.

PARIS - Known for its many palace coups since independence in 1971, the Qatari ruling dynasty has experienced another unexplained change, this time at the level of the head of the government.

A decree, published by the Qatari News Agency, said Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani appointed Sheikh Khalid bin Khalifa bin Abdulaziz al-Thani as prime minister.

Andreas Krieg, assistant professor at King's College London, who had worked as a “contractor” in the Qatari armed forces and is familiar with the views of the Doha regime, said Sheikh Khalid is “one of the emir's most reliable advisers and confidants.”

This change, he told Agence France-Presse, is “part of a larger trend towards ‘meritocracy’ in Qatar, which is to put the most qualified person in the right job.”

What the official biography and officials in Doha fail to report is that Sheikh Khalid was involved, as the former chief-of-staff to Sheikh Tamim, in one of the most dramatic cases of corruption linked to FIFA’s awarding the organisation of the 2022 World Cup to Qatar.

A 2019 report by the French online publication Mediapart and the British newspaper the Guardian, “the chief-of-staff of Emir Tamim al-Thani personally negotiated suspicious payments relating to the awarding of the World Athletics Championships” of 2019 to Doha.

This appointment could grant Sheikh Khalid immunity against a summons to appear before French courts. It is premature to speculate about repercussions this move could cause to the reputation of Qatar, which has aspired to play in the big leagues, whatever the cost.

The Mediapart-Guardian reports said their investigation uncovered proof that Emir Tamim’s former cabinet director was directly involved in the process of "buying" votes during the Doha candidacy for the FIFA World Cup and the 2017 World Athletics Championships.

The scandal was referred to French justice and it suddenly turned into a state affair.

Judge Renaud Van Ruymbeke, the French magistrate in charge of the investigation, which could be embarrassing to the French state and Qatar and its Parisian networks.

Another Qatari cited in the investigation is Nasser al-Khelaifi, head of the Paris Saint-Germain football club and the BeIN Sports channel. He was indicted on charges of “active bribery” in May, although he firmly rejected the charges.

The investigation related to suspected transfer of $3.5 million through Oryx QSI, a Qatari company managed by Khelaifi's brother, for the benefit of the company of Papa Massata Diack, son of the former International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) President Lamine Diack and commercial agent of the federation in charge of negotiating the rights of the World Championships.

Another confounding revelation pertains to a confidential e-mail exchanged between Papa Massata Diack and the former chief-of-staff Sheikh Tamim that indicates a payment of nearly $5 million was alleged negotiated eight days earlier between the two men.

Another e-mail cited by the Guardian shows that, on October 4, 2011, Papa Massata Diack went to Doha with an IAAF delegation responsible for assessing sites likely to host World Championships events.

Two days later, he wrote to a Qatari addressed as “Dear Sheikh Khaled”: “Thank you again for your welcome and your diligence during my stay in Doha. You will find attached the bank details for the transfer of $4.5 million, must be carried out as agreed. The balance of $440,000 must remain in Doha in cash. I will fetch it the next time I come there.”

Papa Massata Diack specified that the payment must be made “urgently today so that I can finalise things with the president” and show him “the signed contract and the bank confirmation.”

The "president" in question is most likely the former IAAF president and Diack’s father, Lamine. As for the contract, it is probably one concluded between his company Pamodzi and Oryx QSI.

Eight days later, Oryx QSI made a transfer of $3 million to Pamodzi in Senegal; a second transfer of $500,000 would followed November 7.

The “Sheikh Khaled” in question was using a regular Hotmail account opened under a pseudonym but the Guardian and Mediapart alleged the owner of the account was Sheikh Khalid bin Khalifa bin Abdulaziz al-Thani.

Nasser al-Khelaifi denied before the examining magistrate having played a role in Qatar’s sports candidatures in 2011. Khelaifi said: “I absolutely did not take care of the negotiations for the World Athletics Championships nor for the Olympic Games… For these events, there is an organising committee in which I am not a stakeholder.”

Mediapart claimed, however, that Khelaifi was a member of a secret committee of five personalities, called “the Brain Trust,” responsible for assisting the then-Crown Prince Tamim and his sister Sheikha al-Mayassa bint Hamas al-Thani to win the right to host the 2020 Olympics.

Tamim's chief-of-staff wrote in an e-mail that “His Highness” (Tamim) personally validated the composition of this committee, in which Khelaifi was responsible for “media-related matters.”

Other documents suggest that Khelaifi was, as the boss of BeIN Sports (called Al Jazeera Sports at the time), officially mandated to help Qatar win the 2017 World Athletics Championships.

Allegations in the media investigation could mean that the newly appointed Qatari prime minister could be dragged into investigations in Paris. The main investigation, conducted for three years under the aegis of the National Financial Prosecutor's Office, was officially entrusted to an investigating judge over the charge of “active and passive corruption.” The investigation is in the hands of investigating judges.