Now BeIN's Al-Khelaifi forced to deny IAAF bid corruption claims
By Callum Murray
A second senior executive of the BeIN Media Group, Nasser Al-Khelaifi, its group chairman, has been forced to deny involvement in an alleged bid by Qatar to ‘buy’ the IAAF World Athletics Championships, after Al-Khelaifi was reported to have been charged with corruption by a French judge in the case.
Yousef Al-Obaidly, chief executive of BeIN, the Qatar-based international broadcaster heavily involved in sport, had earlier strongly denied a report that he was involved in a corruption investigation together with Lamine Diack, the disgraced former president of the IAAF, athletics’ world governing body.
Al-Obaidly and Diack were reported yesterday to be under investigation by magistrates who were said to be considering charging Al-Obaidly with active corruption, with Diack as a key witness who would be charged with ‘passive corruption’, over the award of this year’s World Athletics Championships to Doha in Qatar.
Like Al-Obaidly, Al-Khelaifi, who is also chairman of Paris Saint-Germain, the top French soccer club, has denied any wrongdoing. Speaking on Al Khelaifi’s behalf, Francis Szpiner, his lawyer, told Le Parisien: “Nasser Al-Khelaifi has never been operationally involved in the candidacy of the city of Doha for the Athletics World Championships.”
Al-Khelaifi is suspected of having “validated” a payment of $3.5 million to Diack to facilitate the award of the World Championships to Doha in 2017, it is reported (in fact, the event was awarded to London, with the following edition, taking place later this year, being awarded to Doha).
But the claims were described as “totally inaccurate” by Szpiner, who attributed them in part to “regrettable confusion by the investigating magistrate who confused Oryx QSI, a purely private company run by his [Al-Khelaifi’s] brother, with QSI, a sovereign Qatari fund with Nasser Al-Khelaifi as president!”
Szpiner said in a statement today: “Nasser Al Khelaifi was neither a shareholder nor a director of Oryx in 2011. He was not directly or indirectly involved in Doha’s bid to host the 2017 World Athletics Championships. Furthermore we remind you that at that time he had been placed on leave of absence from his operational activities within Al Jazeera Sport [the predecessor of BeIN Sports], having already been in charge for several months of negotiating the acquisition of Paris Saint Germain, of which he became Chairman of the Supervisory Board on 30 June 2011. These facts do not concern him.
“Moreover, since these facts took place between Senegal, Qatar and Monaco, no element of the procedure can attribute any jurisdiction to the French investigating courts to hear the alleged offence, the prescription of which seems to have been accepted, if it is necessary to raise it at all!”Oryx, a so-called ‘special purpose vehicle’ set up to handle rights including sponsorship, TV, ticketing, events and hospitality for the bid, as required by the IAAF bid process, also featured in the allegations against Al-Obaidly.
However, Al-Obaidly is understood to have claimed that the $3.5 million was paid upfront to the IAAF and Dentsu, its marketing partner, as a non-refundable deposit. This deposit was lost when London, not Doha, won the bid - a commercial risk that Al-Obaidly and Oryx were prepared to take.
Al-Obaidly has also claimed that all transactions at the time were legally and properly documented and communicated to the IAAF. All actions taken at the time were in full compliance with any terms and conditions as laid down by the IAAF and its representatives and agents (Dentsu, the Japanese advertising giant that acts for the IAAF, and Papa Massata Diack, the son of Lamine Diack who was a marketing consultant to the IAAF at the time).
The allegations against the two BeIN executives come in the same week that French prosecutors have said that Lamine and Papa Massata Diack should go on trial over allegations that they helped cover up doping by Russian athletes in exchange for cash.
In an indictment handed to prosecutors earlier this week, the Diacks are accused of various illegal practices, including bribe-taking and money-laundering, with the active involvement of international athletes and their federations.
Lamine Diack, now aged 85, and who was IAAF president from 1999 to 2015, is accused of being prepared to accept funding for political campaigns in his native Senegal in return for lenient treatment by IAAF anti-doping officials of Russian athletes.
Diack senior, who is under house arrest in France, and his son, who is in Senegal, have denied wrongdoing. Senegal has refused extradition requests for Papa Massata Diack.
Earlier this year, Javier Tebas, the president of Spanish soccer’s LaLiga, pushed unsuccessfully for the Congress of Uefa, soccer’s European governing body, to reject the proposed appointment of Al-Khelaifi to the Uefa executive committee.
Tebas’ reasoning was that PSG was under investigation over an alleged breach of Uefa’s financial fair play regulations, and that there was a conflict of interest with Al-Khelaifi’s role as group chairman of BeIN, which is a prominent rights holder in soccer, including of Uefa competitions.
In October 2017, Al-Khelaifi was questioned by Swiss prosecutors in a probe related to the sale of rights to the 2026 and 2030 Fifa World Cups to BeIN across the Middle East and North Africa. He denied any involvement in corruption.This year’s World Athletics Championship are scheduled to take place at the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha on 27 September to 6 October.