James M. DORSEY
ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News
Qatar tries to defend a multi-pronged attack of investigations of bribery allegations and trade union action regarding its successtul 2022 World Cup bid
Qatar has been coping with allegations of bribery and the Mohammed Bin Hammam (pictured) scandal since winning the 2022 World Cup bid. Qatar has won the bid with its proposed state-of-the-art stadium projects (top).
Qatar’s successful bid to host the 2022 World Cup faces a multi-pronged attack with FIFA’s decision to investigate the country’s bid, fresh bribery allegations and imminent trade union action in protest of Qatar’s treatment of foreign workers constructing tournament-related infrastructure.
World governing body FIFA’s investigation comes on the back of a decision to expand its inquiry into bribery charges against its suspended vice president, Mohammed Bin Hammam, a Qatari national who has also been suspended as president of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), into his financial management of the Asian football body.
The inquiry is likely to focus on what an internal audit conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) described as his management of an AFC sundry account as his personal account, as well as the negotiation and terms of a $1 billion master rights agreement with Singapore-based World Sports Group concluded by the football body on Bin Hammam’s authority.
A Singapore court this week instructed the author of this article to reveal his sources for his reporting on the audit and Bin Hammam’s relationship with WSG. The author has so far not made any comment publicly.
Alleged ‘sold’ votes
AFP photo/KARIM JAAFARI
FIFA made its decision to investigate Qatar public after The Sunday Times handed over evidence that constituted the basis for its reporting that the Gulf state had discussed sponsoring a million-dollar gala dinner organized by Samson Adamu, the son of Nigerian FIFA executive committee member Amos Adamu.
Amos Adamu was banned for three years from involvement in professional football in 2010 in the run-up to the FIFA vote following a Sunday Times undercover investigation that secretly filmed him offering to sell his vote on the 2018 World Cup for a payment of $1.3 million into his personal bank account, which he said he would use to build football pitches in his native Nigeria.
Qatar has so far successfully fended off repeated allegations of wrongdoing in its effort to win the World Cup hosting rights with a bid that was far bewtter funded than those of its competitors, the United States, Australia and South Korea.
In addition to the FIFA investigation, Qatar faces escalating action by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) that has 175 million members in 153 countries because of what it describes as inhuman conditions for foreign workers that violate international labor standards. During a climate chance that opens later this month in Doha, ITUC is expected to denounce Qatari efforts to improve the material conditions of foreign workers, who account for a majority of the Gulf state’s population, as insufficient because they do not include recognition of the right to free association and collective bargaining.
“The Qataris are offering short-term conditions that make a difference but for the international union movement, this is not about fixing bedrooms, it is about freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining – fundamental rights. When you have trade unions and collective bargaining all other things get fixed. Work and living conditions are part of collective bargaining,” said a source familiar with trade union thinking.
ITUC has launched an online campaign calling for a boycott of Qatar if it fails to adhere to international labor standards.
Construction industry sources said Qatar was trying to fend off ITUC’s rights demands by ensuring that companies enforce safety and security standards, pay workers on time and ensure that they are properly housed. Wide skepticism
The FIFA investigation of Qatar intersects with that of Bin Hammam given widespread skepticism about Qatari assertions that he was not involved in the World Cup bid despite the fact that he was the most important figure in Asian football.
Bin Hammam has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and has said he is the victim of a vendetta by FIFA President Sepp Blatter, whom he challenged last year in FIFA presidential elections. Bin Hammam withdrew his candidacy after he was accused of seeking to buy the votes of Caribbean football officials.
Sources close to FIFA ethics investigator Michael J. Garcia described the former U.S. district attorney as a stickler for detail who played everything by the book. The sources said Garcia was unlikely to leave a stone unturned and would therefore look closely at all allegations raised in the PwC report.
The report, beyond discussing Bin Hammam’s financial management of the AFC and negotiation of the WSG contract, raised questions about two payments totaling $14 million by a WSG shareholder to Bin Hammam’s AFC sundry account prior to the signing of the agreement.
“It is highly unusual for funds [especially in the amounts detailed here] that appear to be for the benefit of Mr. Hammam personally, to be deposited to an organization’s bank account. In view of the recent allegations that have surrounded Mr. Hammam, it is our view that there is significant risk that the AFC may have been used as a vehicle to launder funds and that the funds have been credited to the former President for an improper purpose,” the report said, while adding, “The AFC may have been used as a vehicle to launder the receipt and payment of bribes.”
Bin Hammam reportedly furnished FIFA investigators in September with his own independent expert’s report from London accountants Smith and Williamson into the AFC account that was said to include a line-by-line explanation of all expenditures.
Rather than opting for transparency, WSG has sought to squash all reporting on its relationship to Bin Hammam and the AFC with its legal proceedings against this author.
Its refusal to comment on the PwC report has been reinforced by a Singapore court decision. In its only comment publicly available, WSG said in an Aug. 28 letter in which it initially threatened this reporter
with legal action that “PwC are incorrect and misconceived in suggesting that the MRA [master rights agreement] was undervalued. They have neither considered the terms of the contract correctly, the market, nor the circumstances in which it was negotiated.”