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May 23, 2011

Qatar scathing over corruption claims

The drama surrounding the 2022 FIFA World Cup bid has continued, with the Qatari World Cup bid team responding to allegations of bribery and corruption in a fiery official statement.

The claims centre on a whistleblower who has alleged that FIFA members Issa Hayatou and Jacques Anouma were paid $1.5 million US each to vote for Qatar, according to evidence given to a Parliamentary committee by the Sunday Times.

The pair deny the claims.

FIFA president Sepp Blatter said the newspaper has agreed to bring the whistleblower, who had worked for the Qatar 2022 bid organisation, to Zurich to testify in person.

Today, in a 1,672-word statement, the Qatari World Cup bid team hit back and made counter-allegations including that reporters posed as corrupt members of the United States bid.

The bid team also insisted the allegations were "completely false''.

"The publication of the memorandum on the website of the CMS Select Committee has caused enormous and wholly unjustified potential damage to the bid committee and the individuals on it,'' the statement read.

"The aim of the bid committee has always been to show that the Middle East is a realistic option for staging the World Cup and it has worked extremely hard to bring the tournament to the Middle East for the first time.

"To have this achievement tarnished by completely unsubstantiated and false allegations and for those allegations to be propounded by the Parliament of the United Kingdom is something we find distressing, insulting and incomprehensible.''

The statement continued: "For The Sunday Times to suggest that 'nobody of sound mind could be persuaded the support for Qatar' was based purely on merit, because Qatar is a 'small desert state with a minuscule population, no football traditions and hostile summer temperatures' is not only insulting, it exemplifies the sustained and unbalanced reporting that the bid committee has been subjected to.''

It has been alleged that Qatar offered bribes in return for support at the vote in Zurich last December, when they beat off the challenge of, among others, the United States and Australia.

"What the memorandum does not state is that the reporters were posing as corrupt representatives of the United States bid and ostensibly soliciting further corruption from those with whom they were speaking, in return for substantial payments,'' said the statement.

"It appears that many of these individuals were simply seeking to impress the supposed US representatives and persuade them that it would be worth their while engaging them.

"Evidently, in such circumstances very little reliability can be attached to the words of such individuals.''

The bid team also pointed out that allegations made by Michel Zen Ruffinen, the former FIFA general secretary, were immediately retracted by him and this was not made clear, an omission described as "astonishing and a matter of the greatest concern''.

The bid team claim further "evidence'' was provided by a former member of the Qatar effort who had an axe to grind after being released from duty.

"We are mystified as to why anyone formerly in the bid committee's employ would now seem intent on fabricating stories and would seriously question what his or her motivations are,'' said the statement.

"We would caution anyone against placing reliance on uncorroborated statements made by an embittered ex-employee.

"With regards to the allegations made in the Memorandum, the Bid Committee would like to point out:

"1. The allegations are completely false.

"2. The memorandum does not contain or refer to any first hand evidence of any bribes being paid or any impropriety on the part of the bid committee. All the allegations are hearsay and supposition. In addition, the allegations are wholly unsupported by any documentary material whatsoever.

"3. These individuals make serious allegations against the Bid Committee but fail to give any substantiation of the allegations. For example, they do not state when the alleged bribes were to be paid, how the negotiations with the individuals concerned had been conducted or crucially how they came to know of the alleged bribes. On any proper view, their evidence is worthless.

"4. The memorandum states that in the view of the reporters, the individuals ''had no reason to fabricate these allegations``. We do not agree for the reasons set out in this Statement.

"The Memorandum purports to explain the reasons for the decision of The Sunday Times not to publish in the newspaper some of the serious allegations.

"It states that this was on the basis that ''none of the three people who made allegations against Qatar was ever likely to be willing to appear as a witness``.

"The reporters will know that the newspaper would have a defence to any libel claim brought in respect of the publication of these allegations if it could show that it constituted responsible journalism to do so and that publication was in the public interest.

"However, it must have been plain to the newspaper and the reporters that so unreliable and unsubstantiated were the allegations, that it would not have constituted responsible journalism for these allegations to be published.''

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