PSG president targeted by French corruption probe
PARIS (AP) — Paris Saint-Germain president Nasser Al-Khelaifi is under investigation for corruption related to Qatar’s bids to host the 2017 and 2019 track world championships, a judicial official said Thursday.
The official told The Associated Press the preliminary charge of “active corruption” was filed against the beIN media group chairman in mid-May in a case focusing on the payment of $3.5 million to an IAAF official.
The judicial official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the person wasn’t authorized to discuss the investigation publicly, said Al-Khelaifi is suspected of corruption “in regards with Qatar’s track and field worlds.”
Al-Khelaifi, who is from Qatar, denies any wrongdoing. His lawyer, Francis Szpiner, said the payments made in 2011 were “perfectly tracked” and added his client was not involved in the money transfer.
The chief executive officer of beIN, Yousef Al-Obaidly, was also handed preliminary charges of corruption, while former IAAF president Lamine Diack is suspected of “passive corruption” in the same case.
BeIN media group declined to comment on the case because it said it “doesn’t relate in any way to the company.”
Investigative magistrate Renaud Van Ruymbeke based his suspicion on documents showing that a company owned by a former IAAF official received two payments totaling about $3.5 million from Qatari investors before the vote for the 2017 track world championships. Qatar eventually lost to London but was later awarded the 2019 worlds. The championships will be held in Doha from Sept. 27-Oct. 6.
The two payments from Oryx Qatar Sports Investments, an investment fund linked to the Qatari government, were made to Pamodzi Sports Marketing in October and November 2011, days before the vote.
Pamodzi was founded by one of Diack’s sons, Papa Massata Diack. A former marketing consultant at the IAAF, he has been banned for allegations of extorting hundreds of thousands of dollars from a Russian marathon runner to avoid a doping ban before the 2012 Olympics. France has issued a wanted notice for him via Interpol.
In his statement, Al-Khelaifi’s lawyer said the payments made by Oryx to the IAAF’s appointed agent were transparent.
“Pamodzi was mandated by Japanese company Dentsu/AMS to manage the IAAF’s marketing rights in so-called emerging countries,” he said, adding that only $300,000 was ultimately kept by Pamodzi.
“Of this $3.5 million relating in particular to the television broadcasting rights and sponsoring rights for the world athletics championships which are of interest to the judge, $1.9 million was immediately transferred by Pamodzi to Dentsu/AMS, and $1.3 million to the IAAF. A total of $3.2 million was repaid by Pamodzi, which retained $0.3 million as Pamodzi’s remuneration for its contribution.”
Al-Obaidly’s representatives said that Oryx, which was set up to handle the sponsorship and rights for Qatar’s bid, accepted to pay $32.5 million for the event’s commercial rights, including the $3.5 million paid to Pamodzi as a non-refundable deposit. The full amount would have been paid only if Qatar’s bid had been successful.
Al-Khelaifi, who was questioned by the judge in March, is an Oryx shareholder with his brother Khalid.
“Nasser Al-Khelaifi was neither a shareholder nor a director of Oryx in 2011,” his lawyer said. “He was not directly or indirectly involved in Doha’s bid to host the 2017 world athletics championships.”
Al-Khelaifi is a member of the UEFA executive committee, representing European clubs, and is due to take part in the body’s meeting on Wednesday in Baku, Azerbaijan.
He was selected as a club delegate, and confirmed by UEFA member federations in February, despite being the subject of a criminal proceeding for bribery in Switzerland since 2017. The Qatari television executive is suspected of bribing FIFA’s then-secretary general with use of a luxury villa in Italy to help secure 2026 and 2030 World Cup broadcasting rights in the Middle East for Doha-based beIN Sports.
Though Al-Khelaifi could face a UEFA disciplinary investigation, the European soccer body has not confirmed whether a case was opened after the first criminal allegation was revealed in Switzerland 19 months ago.
“We are monitoring the situation and have no comment to make at this stage,” UEFA said Thursday.
PSG has also under investigation by UEFA since 2017 for possibly breaking financial rules.
In another case, Brazilian and French authorities are trying to find out whether Lamine Diack and his son played a role in arranging alleged bribes to help Rio de Janeiro earn the hosting rights for the 2016 Olympics. Diack, who ran the IAAF from 1999-2015, has also been accused of covering up failed Russian doping tests in exchange for money.
AP Sports Writer Graham Dunbar in Geneva contributed to this report.