June 16, 2019

Qatari Executive Is Charged With Corruption in I.A.A.F Scandal

Qatari Executive Is Charged With Corruption in I.A.A.F Scandal


French prosecutors have filed preliminary charges against a prominent Qatari business executive, the head of a major international sports broadcasting company, in connection with suspected bribery in his country’s successful bid to host track and field’s world championships.

The charges against the executive, Yousef al-Obaidly, chief of the beIN Media Group, were first reported in the French news media. Al-Obaidly acknowledged the charges publicly on Wednesday.

The charges do not necessarily mean al-Obaidly will face trial.

Al-Obaidly was indicted following a meeting with the investigating judge on March 28, part of a long-running inquiry into corruption in sports. The inquiry began with revelations in 2015 that high-ranking officials at track and field’s governing body, the International Association of Athletics Federations, or I.A.A.F., had tried to extort athletes who had tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs.

“I voluntarily attended an appointed meeting as part of a preliminary investigation,” al-Obaidly said in a statement released by beIN. “The allegations raised are not only utterly baseless and unsubstantiated, but they have been — quite remarkably — leaked to the media. For the avoidance of any doubt whatsoever, the allegations are completely and categorically denied and will be vehemently challenged using the full force of the law.”

The beIN company, based in Doha, the capital of Qatar, has spent billions of dollars on broadcasting rights, becoming one of the biggest networks on the planet and one of the country’s best-known brands. The chairman, Nasser al-Khelaifi, is also under investigation in connection with efforts by Qatar, a small, oil- and gas-rich nation on the Persian Gulf, to secure the track and field championships.

Al-Obaidly is a close ally of al-Khelaifi, the pre-eminent figure in Qatar’s sports investment projects who is also president of Paris St.-Germain, the French soccer team that has been turned into a perennial national champion thanks to enormous investment from the country. In a separate case, Swiss prosecutors have accused al-Khelaifi of bribing a top official at soccer’s governing body, FIFA, to obtain lucrative World Cup broadcast rights.

Suspicions of al-Obaidly’s involvement in a corruption scheme is yet another blow to Qatar’s prestige and its long-held claims of playing by the book in the often murky competition to secure the rights to major sports events. The country achieved a stunning breakthrough when it secured the right to host the 2022 soccer World Cup after a bidding process marred by allegations of graft against several of the FIFA officials involved in the vote.

The French case against al-Obaidly relates to his time as a senior official of Oryx Qatar Sports Investment, a company created by Qatar to bid for the track and field world championships. The authorities say that in 2011, days before the I.A.A.F. vote on where to hold the 2017 championships, Oryx paid $3.5 million to a company controlled by a man with powerful connections to the governing body — an apparent bribe to influence the outcome.

Qatar lost that vote but was later awarded the 2019 championships, scheduled for September and October.

The company that received the payments was owned by Papa Massata Diack, then a consultant to the I.A.A.F. whose father, Lamine Diack, was the federation’s president. Both of the Diacks were charged with corruption in 2015, with the elder unable to leave France ever since and the son fighting extradition from Senegal.

Papa Massata Diack has become a central figure in investigations spanning three continents that have cast a shadow over the bidding process for at least two Olympic Games as well as the doping scheme. The I.A.A.F. banned him for life following allegations that he extorted hundreds of thousands of dollars from a Russian marathon runner so that the athlete could avoid a doping ban before the 2012 Olympics.

The news about al-Obaidly comes as Renaud Van Ruymbeke, the investigating magistrate in France, approaches his expected retirement this summer. According to the French newspaper Le Monde, Lamine Diack was handed preliminary charges of “passive corruption” in March on accusations that he favored the Qatari bid in exchange for money transferred to his son’s company.



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