The Qatari president of French soccer club Paris Saint-Germain, Nasser al-Khelaifi, is formally under investigation in France for alleged corruption related to Doha’s bid to host the athletics world championship, his lawyers confirmed on Thursday.
French financial prosecutors are looking into a $3.5 million payment made in 2011 by Qatar-based company Oryx QSI to a sports marketing company run by Papa Massata Diack, son of the former IAAF president Lamine Diack, during the bidding process for the 2017 world championships.
They claim that Khelaifi approved the payment, according to the notice sent by the investigative judge to his lawyers, who denied he had any link to Oryx QSI at the time.
Several other sources said Khelaifi and a close associate were questioned by investigators in March “as a person of interest” in the investigation.
We have reached out to several key figures inside the Oryx QSI organization, but have yet to receive any feedback.
Qatar was not able to host the championships, which went to London, but they did go on to secure the rights to hold the 2019 world championships to be held in October.
The move by an investigative judge is a demonstration of the broadening scope of France’s inquiry into a suspected web of corruption once rife in world athletics, including bribes to cover up athletes’ positive drug tests, and Qatar is in the middle of it.
Khelaifi, 45, is deeply involved with sports and sporting events in Qatar. He serves as chairman of Qatar Sports Investments and the Qatar Tennis Federation, alongside his role as president of Paris Saint-Germain. He is also a minister without portfolio in the Qatari government.
In the four years since, the French inquiry has widened to include the bidding process for the Rio de Janeiro and Tokyo Olympic Games, as well as the world athletics championships.
The investigative judges presiding over the Diack case accuse the Senegalese of favoring Qatar’s bid for the 2017 world championship in return for a kickback, sources have said.
The indictment handed to judges on Monday and seen by Reuters accuses Diack and his son, Papa Massata, of bribe-taking and money laundering.
France’s financial prosecutors allege that Pamodzi Sports Consulting, a company belonging to Papa Massata, received $3.5 million from Oryx QSI, just one of several multi-million dollar payments received by the Diacks.
A source familiar with the matter said Oryx QSI had undertaken to pay $32.5 million for the commercial rights to the 2017 championships of which $3.5 million was paid upfront as a non-refundable deposit. The full amount was conditional on Qatar winning the bid, the source said.
Nasser Khelaifi is also chairman of beIN Media Group, a television network that holds regional rights to many of the world’s top sporting events, including World Cup soccer.