LONDON: The organisers of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar have strongly denied allegations from the US Department of Justice that bribes were paid to secure votes for the hosting rights to the tournament.
Suspicion and rumours have long surrounded both the 2010 vote by FIFA’s executive to hand the 2018 World Cup to Russia and the 2022 tournament to Qatar.
Yet on Monday, for the first time, prosecutors set direct, formal allegations regarding both tournaments down in an indictment.
According to the prosecutors, representatives working for Russia and Qatar bribed FIFA executive committee officials to swing votes in the crucial hosting decisions of world football’s governing body.
Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy (SC), rejected the charges.
“They are part of a long-standing case, the subject of which is not the 2018/2022 FIFA World Cup bidding process.
“Despite years of false claims, evidence has never been produced to demonstrate that Qatar won the rights to host the FIFA World Cup 2022 unethically or by means that contravened FIFAs strict bidding rules.
“The SC maintains that it strictly adhered to all rules and regulations for the 2018/2022 FIFA World Cup bidding process and any claim to the contrary is baseless and will be fiercely contested.”
Although FIFA has reacted to previous media allegations about the Qatar bid process by insisting the tournament will be unaffected, the US allegations will lead to further questions over the hosting of the tournament, which is scheduled for November and December of 2022.
The indictment states that the three South American members of FIFA’s 2010 executive committee — Brazil’s Ricardo Teixeira, the late Nicolas Leoz of Paraguay and an unnamed co-conspirator - took bribes to vote for Qatar to host the 2022 tournament.
The DOJ also alleges that then FIFA vice-president Jack Warner was paid $5 million through various shell companies to vote for Russia to host the 2018 World Cup.
Russian officials on Tuesday flatly denied bribing Warner.
“We cant understand what this is about, or how to react,” Russia’s top football official Alexey Sorokin, who led the bid, told The Associated Press.
“We the bid committee had nothing to do with this. ... It looks like a perfect conspiracy theory.”
FIFA’s ethics committee found in 2014 that Russia and other candidates, including Qatar, broke some bidding rules but they did not affect the results.
“We abundantly responded to all the questions,” said Sorokin, who has been a member of FIFA’s strategy-setting council since 2017. “We have opened everything that we have. We don’t know what else to say.”
The US legal action is linked to a wide-ranging 2015 corruption scandal that left world governing body FIFA in turmoil and led to the downfall of then-president Sepp Blatter.
In the ensuing years, the US government has accused a total of 45 people and various sports companies of more than 90 crimes and of paying or accepting more than $200 million in bribes.
The latest US legal action centres on two former executives of US media giant Fox who were charged with corruption, bank fraud and money-laundering on Monday.
But Federal prosecutors have also shed fresh light on the scandal-tainted bidding war for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.
Blatter told French news agency AFP that “there was a gentlemen’s agreement at the heart of FIFA’s executive committee” to award the 2018 tournament to Russia and the 2022 edition to Qatar.
“That’s all,” added Blatter who presided over both bidding processes and is currently banned from football.
Published in Dawn, April 9th, 2020