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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 December 2018

Corruption charges continue to haunt Qatar's troubled 2022 World Cup 

French investigators are examining whether Nicolas Sarkozy may have received funds from transactions negotiated around the time of the 2022 bid

Qatar won the right to stage the 2022 World Cup at the start of this decade, but the bidding process has been embroiled in corruption allegations ever since. Walter Bieri / Keystone / AP
Qatar won the right to stage the 2022 World Cup at the start of this decade, but the bidding process has been embroiled in corruption allegations ever since. Walter Bieri / Keystone / AP

Allegations that Nicolas Sarkozy, the former French president, could be embroiled in a criminal investigation relating to Qatar’s World Cup bid, have placed Fifa’s controversial decision to award the 2022 event to the Gulf state under renewed scrutiny.

Disclosures made in the Daily Telegraph this week have revealed French investigators are examining whether France’s former president may have received funds from transactions negotiated around the time of the 2022 bid, including Qatar’s purchase of the Paris Saint-Germain football club.

France was one of the key backers of Qatar’s bid, and the Telegraph now reports that a former Fifa executive is claiming that Mr Sarkozy played a central role in lobbying support in Paris and other European nations to ensure the success of Doha’s bid.

As part of a wide-ranging corruption inquiry, French officials say they are focusing on a meeting that took place at the Elysee Palace in Paris 10 days before the 2010 vote took place. That meeting involved Mr Sarkozy, former French footballer Michel Platini and a number of Qatari officials, at which it is alleged Qatar agreed to buy PSG.

A French source told the Telegraph that officers were examining several deals, including the purchase of a stake in a French utility Veolia firm by Qatari Diar, the state-owned investment company.

Mr Sarkozy’s legal team have been quick to rebut any allegations of wrong-doing, claiming the investigation being conducted by France’s National Financial Prosecutor’s Office was “politically motivated”.

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But confirmation by French prosecutors that they are conducting their own, independent inquiry into corruption allegations relating to Qatar’s World Cup bid yet again raises awkward questions about the methods used by Doha to secure the event.

Qatar is already facing a series of international criminal inquiries into its successful World Cup bid amid claims that huge bribes were paid to secure support. Some of the allegations of vote-buying by Doha have previously centred on how former Qatari executive committee member Mohammed bin Hammam used one of his companies to make payments to Fifa officials.

In June, Fifa published an internal report by Michael Garcia, a US lawyer, into the bidding process, which raised further questions about Doha’s campaign.

In his report Mr Garcia expressed concern about a meeting between Qatar’s emir and two executive committee members in 2010 at which it appeared that gifts may have been bestowed by the head of state on his guests.

The Qatari bid committee has consistently denied any knowledge of gifts and told Mr Garcia that “the emir is not bound by Fifa’s rules”.

But this week’s revelation that yet another investigation is underway in France into allegations of wrong-doing on the part of the Qataris will undoubtedly increase the pressure on Fifa to review its original decision.

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These allegations have certainly prompted severe criticism in Britain, where senior MPs this week warned there is still a strong possibility that Qatar could be stripped of the tournament if investigators find evidence of wrongdoing. John Whittingdale, the former culture secretary, said there was "mounting evidence" that the Qatari campaign was "riddled with corruption" and warned that Qatar could still be stripped of the 2022 World Cup.

He pointed out that the tournament "is not for another five years" and there would be a "very strong case" for re-running the competition if authorities concluded that the decision to award the tournament to Qatar had not been made on merit".

Damien Collins, the current Conservative chairman of the House of Commons culture, media and sport committee, agreed, saying "there is absolutely no question that Qatar should lose the right to host the World Cup" if it is proven that bribes were paid in return for votes.

Nor are the allegations about Qatar’s involvement in a corrupt bidding process the only concerns being expressed in London and elsewhere about the Gulf state’s fitness to host the event.

Recent media reports about Qatar’s appalling treatment of the guest workers brought in to build the eight arenas required for the tournament have attracted intense criticism from human rights groups.

There are doubts about Qatar’s ability to provide adequate travel arrangements for the hundreds of thousands of fans who are expected to descend on the Gulf for the tournament following the recent decision by the quartet of nations to impose travel restrictions on Doha. The quartet decided to act after concerns were raised about Doha’s links to a number of radical Islamist groups in the Middle East, as well as it ties with Iran.

The state has also been accused of hypocrisy over its plans to allow hundreds of thousands of foreign football fans to consume alcohol while attending the event.

Qatar claims it has addressed some of these concerns by improving health and safety measures.

But the controversy over Fifa’s original decision to grant the tournament to Doha just refuses to go away. Consequently, serious questions remain whether, in light of the constant stream of allegations that surround the decision, the event will still be allowed to take place in Qatar, or eventually moved, as many football fans around the world are still hoping, to a less contentious venue.

Con Coughlin is the Daily Telegraph’s defence and foreign affairs editor