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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 21 June 2018

Neymar deal does not distract from key Qatar issues, says France 

Amid hoopla over football star's record transfer, Paris demands answers on Doha's links to terrorism

A protester holds a placard with a message in French that says "Qatar buys everything, some players and some Jihad", as the entourage of Brazilian footballer Neymar arrives at a hotel in Paris on August 4, 2017 following the Brazilian footballer's world record transfer for 222 million euros from Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain. Benjamin Cremel / AFP
A protester holds a placard with a message in French that says "Qatar buys everything, some players and some Jihad", as the entourage of Brazilian footballer Neymar arrives at a hotel in Paris on August 4, 2017 following the Brazilian footballer's world record transfer for 222 million euros from Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain. Benjamin Cremel / AFP

The world record transfer of Brazilian footballer Neymar to Qatar-owned Paris Saint-Germain is a play by Doha to influence diplomacy through sports, but it cannot escape answering questions about its role in supporting terrorism, French government spokesman Christophe Castaner said on Friday.

"We see very well that Qatar is involved in a communications operation, we see how Qatar wants to be a player, via sporting events, sporting presence, to be seen on the diplomatic stage," Mr Castaner said in an LCI television interview.

However, “it’s essential that Qatar sheds full transparency on subjects like the financing of terrorism”, he said.

Qatar has been boycotted since June by a Saudi-led quartet of fellow Arab countries who accuse it of supporting extremism and terrorism. Doha denies the charges.

Former Barcelona player Neymar, 25, moves to PSG in a deal that is said to reach as much as US$600 million (Dh2.2 billion), including wages and add-ons, over five years. The Paris club is owned by a company linked to Qatar's ruling family.

Asked whether France would make any concessions in exchange for the "gift" of Neymar's arrival, Mr Castaner insisted "there was no negotiated compensation" and insisted France would not let the deal smooth over the Gulf diplomatic crisis and questions about Qatar's relationship with extremists.

"We don't need to be suspicious of one country or another. But we have the right to ask questions. France favours pursuing dialogue because today there are extremely high tensions [between Qatar and its neighbours] and it's not healthy for them to continue.

"There are specific questions that have been asked of Qatar, notably about the financing of terrorism. It's essential that Qatar shows total transparency on these subjects."

The Neymar acquisition is the latest in a series of headline-grabbing deals by Qatar, which has a history of buying trophy assets. The world’s top exporter of liquefied natural gas has since June agreed to buy F-15 fighter jets from the US, seven warships from Italy and explored the idea of buying a stake in American Airlines before backing out.

The cost of the Neymar transfer "sends a very strong signal to the sporting world and a very strong signal of defiance towards the UAE and Saudi Arabia", said Andreas Krieg, a political risk analyst at King's College London who called the deal "a soft power stunt".

"They wanted this player and they used the money to buy him at whatever price."

* With reporting from Bloomberg, Associated Press and Agence France-Presse