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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 September 2018

US officials probe how Qatar won right to host top athletics competition

Justice Department ‘explores possible racketeering and money laundering’ linked to the 2019 IAAF event

The US justice department is investigating how Doha won the 2019 IAAF world championships. EPA/DIEGO AZUBEL
The US justice department is investigating how Doha won the 2019 IAAF world championships. EPA/DIEGO AZUBEL

American prosecutors are seeking information on how Doha won the right to stage the 2019 World Championships in Athletics as they broaden their investigations into global sports corruption, according to legal documents obtained by the New York Times.

Citing a grand jury subpoena, the newspaper said the Justice Department was “exploring possible racketeering, money laundering and honest services fraud charges” linked to the awarding of two IAAF athletics world championships and to business executives who have consulted on bids for other elite competitions.

The investigation is being conducted by the US Attorney's office for the Eastern District of New York.

The office is based in Brooklyn and has made a name for itself with a string of high-profile international investigations – from Al Qaeda-linked terrorism to corruption in world football.

In December, one of its star witnesses presented evidence in court that senior South American football officials had been paid US$1 million (Dh3.67m) in return for backing Qatar’s bid for the 2022 World Cup.

The latest revelations will intensify scrutiny on how Qatar was able to win two major international sporting events.

A spokesman said: “We won’t confirm nor deny the existence of an investigation.”

The office has already shone a spotlight on the cosy world of football administrators and business executives, revealing how millions of dollars changed hands in return for TV and marketing rights.

Investigators have also probed systematic doping in Russian sports.

The new subpoenas were reportedly served in January, demanding financial records and other documents dating to 2013.

The New York Times said prosecutors were seeking information connected to the 2019 athletics championships in Doha and the 2021 event in Eugene, Oregon, close to the birthplace of Nike.

The individuals summoned to provide information, including personal and corporate bank records, could appear as soon as this week, according to the report.

The awarding of the 2019 and 2021 World Championships in Athletics has already been the subject of investigation in France, where Lamine Diack has been barred from leaving the country since being charged with accepting bribes to cover up doping by Russian athletes during his IAAF presidency from 1999 to 2015.

In 2014, The Guardian revealed an email in which Diack's son, Papa Massate Diack, reportedly asked for $5m from Qatar at a time when it was in the running for the 2017 World Championships in Athletics as well as the Olympics.

A year later the IAAF’s independent ethics commission said Kenyan officials accepted two cars from Qatar when Doha was bidding for the 2019 event.

French prosecutors launched a probe into the IAAF’s decision to give its flagship event to Eugene over the Swedish city of Gothenburg in 2015.

It followed the discovery of an email sent by a Nike executive to Vin Lananna, the athletics director at the university of Oregon who was leading the bid, telling him that Sebastian Coe, the new head of the IAAF, supported Eugene for 2021.

At the time, Lord Coe, a former Olympic middle-distance champion, was also paid $100,000 a year to be an ambassador for the sportswear company.

He denied lobbying on behalf of Eugene but later stepped down from his role with Nike, saying any allegations of a conflict of interest were “distracting” and not good for either the brand or the IAAF.

Eugene was selected for the games after the IAAF bypassed its usual bidding process, much to the anger of officials in Gothenburg who described it as a “violation of fair play”.

Last year the BBC reported that the FBI and the criminal division of the US Internal Revenue Service were investigating.

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