The moral and legal compromises FIFA and the Qatari government made to hold the 2022 World Cup in the Doha metropolitan area range from tolerating the host country’s ban on homosexuality to deadly abuses of migrant laborers at stadium construction sites. According to documents submitted to the record of a lawsuit in federal court late this afternoon, the road to the first Middle Eastern World Cup also began with a series of straightforward bribes.
Qatar National Bank (QNB) documents, included in a filing made by a Philadelphia-based policy organization fighting a subpoena from a former Qatari-hired American lobbyist, reveal the secret cost of Qatar’s bid to put on the biggest sporting event on Earth. The documents record over 210 million pounds in payments, then worth over $330 million, to members of the FIFA committee who voted on which country would host the 2018 and 2022 tournaments in late 2010. They list specific names, bank account numbers, and amounts of money received.
The record of payments comes in the form of a balance sheet for an account at QNB belonging to the Qatar Diplomatic Mission in London. Between February of 2009 and December of 2010, the account paid over 350 million pounds ($553 million) to some 22 individuals, with the majority of the money going to 14 members of the FIFA executive committee, the body which chooses the host countries for the organization’s flagship event. Some of the payments went to close family members, although a majority of them were direct to committee members.
The payments were largely made in two phases, with money coming both before and after the vote that granted Qatar the tournament on Dec. 2, 2010. The amounts were often channeled into bank accounts in “offshore” financial havens like Monaco and Jersey, which tend to attract less scrutiny compared to those in more more closely regulated jurisdictions.
According to the filing, a now-former employee of the Qatari government who was then working for the Qatar National Bank’s London office requested the account’s balance sheet. The QNB report was obtained by a person, whose name is redacted, “who was involved in conducting some of the transactions at the direction of superiors” and who was later “terminated after reporting a sexual assault by a senior bank official,” the filing states.
The account statements were reviewed by Fiona Marsh, an expert in forensic document analysis with experience working as a civil servant for the London Metropolitan Police Department. In a December 2017 report, which has also been entered into the federal court record, Marsh wrote she was “unable to find any evidence that the questioned documents are other than genuine.” While the date of the bank ledger’s creation is redacted in the court filing, Marsh wrote in her report that the eight-page bank record, which included the official stamp of Qatar National Bank, was dated Oct. 17, 2017.
“I have looked at certain documents and I have written a report,” Marsh confirmed to Tablet, but added that she “can’t give any more detail because my obligation is to my client,” whom she declined to name. An unrelated group of London-based private investigators conducted a separate inquiry into the documents, using their own sources in the Middle East. This effort also determined the documents were authentic, and it was able to confirm that the QNB account in fact existed. The two different and nonoverlapping London-based efforts to authenticate the documents suggest that the initial source attempted to give them to more than one potential intermediary in the hope they would eventually see daylight.
There was just enough leakage in the chain of custody for the QNB records, as well as Marsh’s forensic analysis of their veracity, to end up in the possession of the Philadelphia-based Middle East Forum (MEF), which publishes frequently about Doha’s support for the region’s Islamist movements. Today’s filing shows that MEF went to some length to authenticate the documents. The filing describes how the organization used private investigators to confirm the existence of bank account numbers belonging to two family members and a suspected shell company of Ahmed Al-Sabah, a future FIFA executive committee member who was then Kuwait’s sports minister. All three received payments from the QNB account.
According to the QNB record, over 210 million pounds, then worth $330 million, passed between the bank account and 14 different members of the 22-member FIFA executive committee. Qatar’s deep reserves of natural gas and small number of actual citizens have made it one of the richest countries on Earth per capita. But nearly a third of a billion dollars is a lot of money for anyone. The expenditures suggest how high of a priority it was for the Qatari government to win the right to host the World Cup, a soft-power victory on a scale that none of the tiny Gulf emirate’s larger and more powerful neighbors has ever been able to reach.
The price of some FIFA committee votes was apparently higher than others. For instance, Nicolas Leoz, the now-deceased former head of South America’s soccer federation, got 5.4 million pounds ($8.5 million). But the highest payments went to Vitaly Mutko, Russia’s minister for sport between 2008 and 2016, chairman of the successful Russian bid for the 2018 World Cup, and deputy prime minister from 2016 to 2020. He got 46 million pounds ($72.6 million) on Feb. 19, 2009, followed by another 21.5 million pounds ($34 million) on Dec. 20, 2010.
Per the documents, Qatar landed the tournament through paying a senior henchman of one of the world’s more oppressive and corrupt regimes. Mutko was Russia’s top sports official during a time in which the country’s Olympic athletes were doping on a systemic scale, leading to the country’s ban from the games. Grigory Rodchenkov, the doctor responsible for exposing the extent of Russia’s state-orchestrated doping operation, said that Mutko ordered him to “tamper with over 100 steroid-laced urine samples” during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, and asked him to “conceal similar cheating in the years before and after the 2014 Games,” according to The New York Times. Rodchenkov is the subject of the Oscar-winning 2017 documentary Icarus, and is now living in hiding in the United States. Amid official Russian denials, a 2015 report from the World Anti-Doping Agency stated that Mutko likely had personal knowledge of the doping scheme, and found that his ministry had close ties to the country’s highly corrupt official drug-testing organization.
In 2017, the International Olympic Committee issued Mutko a lifetime ban, which barred him from attending the 2018 Winter Games in South Korea (in 2019, the International Court of Arbitration for Sport overturned the IOC ban, on the basis that the organization did not have the ability to bar anyone who wasn’t an official member of any national Olympic committee or team). Today, Mutko is one of Russia’s leading housing officials, CEO of a joint stock company that, per the Kremlin’s website, is “the operator for all subsidized mortgage programs” in the country. He is one of the highest-ranking current or former Putin regime officials who has avoided being placed under Western sanctions.
How apparent proof of Qatar’s FIFA payoffs wound up in the federal court record is a story in itself. In early 2022, MEF received a subpoena from Gregory Howard, a former Foreign Agents Registration Act-disclosed lobbyist for Qatar who is being sued by California businessman Elliot Broidy. Broidy is a former Republican Party deputy national fundraising chair and a longtime pro-Israel political spender. In 2020, Broidy pleaded guilty to conspiring to lobby for interests in Malaysia and China without making the required federal disclosures, though President Donald Trump later pardoned him. Broidy also reportedly worked closely with George Nader, an alleged unregistered lobbyist for the United Arab Emirates who sought to influence members of Trump’s inner circle. Much of the evidence connecting Broidy to the UAE, a regional rival of Qatar, came from stolen emails. In his lawsuit, Broidy claims the lobbyists Joey Allaham, Nick Muzin, and Greg Howard helped Qatari-hired hackers target and disseminate his private messages in retaliation for his political activism, which often focused on Qatar’s support for Islamist groups, including Hamas.
Last week, Broidy dropped his case against Allaham. The former kosher restaurateur, who Qatar initially hired as part of an effort to improve the Gulf emirate’s image among American Jews, then revealed new information about his dealings with Doha and the country’s strategy in fighting Broidy’s lawsuit. As Tablet reported last week, Allaham now claims that a London-based lawyer instructed him to withhold information in the lawsuit’s discovery process that might be embarrassing to Qatar. Allaham also produced a notarized 2019 contract with Qatar’s Washington Embassy in which he was to be paid $1.15 million in exchange for signing an affidavit attesting to the embassy’s version of its relationship with him.
The Broidy defendants subpoenaed nearly two dozen people and organizations over the course of 2022, including Allen Roth, the political adviser to the Jewish philanthropist and Republican donor Ronald Lauder, and Aaron Keyak, the U.S. State Department’s deputy antisemitism envoy and head of Jewish outreach for Joe Biden’s successful 2020 presidential campaign.
A number of subpoena targets alleged that Qatar and its American lawyers are using the federal court system to harass their American critics. “These law firms are engaged in a really despicable harassment, fishing, and lawfare campaign against people who, like me, are accused of no wrongdoing,” the writer David Reaboi, who received a subpoena, told Tablet last year. Broidy’s lawyers now openly allege that Qatar is financing the defense of the case. “It appears that—at the behest of this enormously wealthy foreign country which was paying the fees of all of those parties’ attorneys—the lawyers for defendants and nonparties and Qatar itself went to extraordinary lengths to help Qatar cover up … egregious misconduct,” the plaintiff alleged in an Aug. 25 reply memorandum filed after Broidy dropped his case against Allaham.
MEF has been fighting its subpoena since the spring of 2022. Earlier this evening, the group filed a motion to quash the subpoena, which its lawyers characterize as a form of politically motivated harassment. The filing included information that MEF possessed that is relevant to broader issues of Qatari foreign policy that it already turned over to Howard’s lawyers, including the QNB account records. Today’s filing reproduces emails between MEF and Howard’s lawyers establishing that the group gave the defense these materials in response to their subpoena in the spring of 2022. The World Cup-related documents are in today’s latest filing as a show of MEF’s earlier cooperation with what they consider to be an overly broad subpoena. The group’s lawyers now allege the filing was part of a Qatari attempt to abuse the federal court system in order to probe the emirate’s American political opponents.
The alleged state-ordered hacking of Broidy’s email account, an aggressive legal strategy, and whatever individual grievances might have led someone in Qatar’s London employ to leak sensitive information about the biggest public messaging breakthrough in the country’s history, culminated in Doha’s alleged World Cup bribes entering the record in a federal lawsuit.
“We have no comment at this time,” a spokesperson from MEF told Tablet. “We’ll let the documents speak for themselves.” Tablet has reached out to FIFA, QNB, and Qatar’s London and Washington embassies for a response to the filing.
Faced with the evidence contained in the documents, the Qataris can counter that international soccer gave the Putin regime a whole lot more than just the 67 million pounds ($105.8 million) Doha apparently handed Vitaly Mutko. In 2010, Moscow was awarded the right to host the 2018 World Cup, the same day Qatar 2022 was announced. In a sense, the Qataris were playing down to the low moral standards of international soccer.
In 2015, the U.S. government indicted nine FIFA officials for alleged racketeering and announced that Charles Blazer, a member of the FIFA executive committee who had voted to award Qatar and Russia the World Cup, had pleaded guilty to wire fraud and money laundering. During his sentencing hearing, Blazer acknowledged he had received bribes in connection with Morocco’s and South Africa’s bids for the 1998 and 2010 World Cups, respectively. According to the QNB account ledger, Blazer received 13.9 million pounds ($21.9 million) from the QNB account. He died in 2017, at the age of 72.
Treating World Cup hosting rights as a diplomatic objective that a regime could buy just like any other asset was a successful approach to being awarded the tournament in the late 2000s. In retrospect, the $330 million price was probably a bargain. The World Cup was a public messaging triumph for Doha. Soccer fans and the global media largely ignored Qatar World Cup Chairman Hassan al-Thawadi’s remarkable admission in the runup to the tournament that between 400 and 500 workers had died working on World Cup-related projects. The world paid shockingly little interest to a pre-tournament report in Swiss media that Qatar spent $387 million spying on international soccer officials, and that Qatari-linked hackers were in possession of emails stolen from former U.S. Soccer Federation head Sunil Gulati which included his personal medical records. Qatar has denied allegations that it acted improperly in gaining the right to host the World Cup.
The American press, which has focused withering criticism on other Middle Eastern states, was largely charmed by Qatar’s well-funded PR offensive centered around the World Cup. On Dec. 5, 2022, The Washington Post’s Today’s WorldView newsletter published a credulous tourism blurb for the Gulf monarchy, gushing that “Doha may be an appealing destination to visitors from the Middle East, Asia and Africa.” Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, who is often outspoken about the purported misdeeds of Israel and Saudi Arabia, praised Qatar as “our best partner in the region.”
Money has been no object for Doha in advancing a self-contradicting strategy of being a pro-Islamist monarchy that also appears to be a forward-thinking and progressive state, embodying the same values as the Western democracies Doha seeks to influence. Qatar has enough money to be able to buy popularity, whether it’s through showering a half-billion dollars on Al Gore and his partners in order to buy their failing cable channel, pledging $14.8 million to the Brookings Institution, flying leaders of the American Jewish community to Doha, or hosting the single biggest sporting event in the world. Doha apparently gambled that the fiscal and reputational costs of bribing its way to the World Cup would be negligible in the long run—a principle that has served the monarchy well in its larger campaign for influence.
Late last year, Belgium charged four individuals as part of an alleged Qatari scheme to bribe a vice president of the European Parliament, who had publicly met Qatar’s labor minister and praised the country’s progress on workers’ rights shortly before the tournament kicked off. It was yet another blatant instance of Qatar attempting to purchase the world’s goodwill. But it’s a strategy that hasn’t failed yet.
Armin Rosen is a staff writer for Tablet Magazine.