Qatar 2022 bid hits back at corruption claims

Qatar welcomed an investigation into alleged corruption in its
victorious 2022 World Cup bid but said Monday the evidence put
forward so far was false, unsubstantiated and coming from a
whistle-blower who was probably a former employee ”with a
significant axe to grind.”

Qatar has been on the defensive since the Sunday Times submitted
evidence to a British parliamentary inquiry earlier this month
alleging that two African FIFA executives were paid $1.5 million in
bribes to vote for Qatar’s successful 2022 bid on the December
ballot. It has denied the allegations.

Since then, FIFA President Sepp Blatter has said a former bid
employee would be interviewed Wednesday about the claims as part of
its wider investigation into alleged corruption in the bidding
process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.

”The Bid Committee welcomes a thorough investigation into the
allegations made against it,” the committee said in a statement.
”However, such an investigation must surely only be carried out by
a properly constituted body with due authority and independence
where our side of the story can be heard. It is wholly
inappropriate for any examination of the bid committee’s affairs to
be based on unsubstantiated hearsay and inaccurate
journalism.”

Qatar offered no fresh evidence to refute the claims and,
instead, attempted to cast doubt on the Sunday Times allegations,
suggesting the methods it used to build the case called into
question the ”credibility of the reporters, their motivations and
extent to which … the evidence in any way can be relied
upon.”

The bid committee argued the allegations contained no firsthand
evidence of bribes and were based solely on hearsay. It also
criticized the use of undercover reporters posing as ”corrupt
representatives of the United States,” as well as testimony from
one individual – Michel Zen Ruffinen – whom the committee says
later retracted his claims.

”We would caution anyone against placing reliance on
uncorroborated statements made by an embittered ex-employee without
a full and balanced understanding of that individual’s personal and
professional circumstances. Without knowing the identity of the
alleged whistle-blower, the details of the allegations made or the
circumstances in which they have been made, it is impossible for
the Bid Committee to respond to these allegations any further at
this stage,” the committee said.

In an often angry and defensive one-page statement, the bid
committee went on to complain about the British Parliament’s
publishing of the allegations, which it called ”distressing,
insulting and incomprehensible.”

The bid beat the United States in a five-nation race in
December, despite concerns the Gulf nation was too small and the
weather there too hot during the summer months.

”What is concerning and unfair is that there appear to be those
who are unable to accept that a team from a country like Qatar
could perform in this way and are ready – on the basis of no
evidence – to assume the worst,” the bid committee wrote. ”Qatar
is excited at the prospect of hosting one of the world’s greatest
sporting events and is determined to deliver a World Cup truly
deserving of football fans around the world.”

Harold Mayne-Nicholls, who led the FIFA inspection team, was in
Qatar on Monday to speak at a stadium design and development
conference. He wouldn’t talk about the latest corruption
allegations. But he insisted that neither he nor any members of the
inspection committee ever received anything from Qatar nor did he
receive ”a single phone call or a single letter” pressuring the
committee to emphasize the positive or negative aspects of any of
the bids.

”Nobody approached a single member of the inspection committee
for nothing,” he said.

Mayne-Nicholls said he still had concerns about the heat in
Qatar, but argued that authorities had the time and the ability to
solve the problems and that it would host ”a wonderful World
Cup.”