Athletics: French judges question PSG president Nasser Al-Khelaifi in Doha world c'ships corruption probe

PSG's Qatari president Nasser Al-Khelaifi attending a press conference, on Feb 22, 2019.
PSG's Qatari president Nasser Al-Khelaifi attending a press conference, on Feb 22, 2019.PHOTO: AFP

PARIS (AFP) - The Qatari boss of top French soccer team Paris St-Germain Nasser Al-Khelaifi has been questioned in France in connection with a corruption probe over the awarding to Doha of the world athletics championships, a judicial source said on Saturday (March 23).

The source said he was questioned on Wednesday by investigating magistrates who termed him a "person of interest", as they examine a case which also looks at the circumstances in which the Olympic Games were awarded to Rio de Janeiro for 2016 and Tokyo for 2020.

Al-Khelaifi's lawyer Francis Szpiner did not respond to an AFP request for comment.

The magistrates were looking specifically at two payments of US$3.5 million (S$4.73 million) in 2011 by Oryx Qatar Sports Investment, a company jointly owned by Al-Khelaifi and his brother Khalid, to a sports marketing firm run by Papa Massata Diack.

His father Lamine Diack was formerly president of the IAAF, the world athletics governing body, and a member of the International Olympic Committee.

At the time, Qatar was seeking to host the 2017 IAAF world championships and the two payments were made shortly before it voted. The event was awarded to London but, in 2014, Doha was awarded the 2019 IAAF games which start on Sept 28.

These payments were outlined in a memorandum of understanding, in which Oryx undertook to purchase sponsorship and TV rights for US$32.6 million, provided Doha obtained the 2017 event, according to a source close to the file.

Oryx Qatar Sports Investment is distinct from the Qatar sovereign wealth fund, Qatar Sports Investment, which owns PSG.

Al-Khelaifi was interrogated by two French judges on Wednesday. The source told AFP that the Qatari businessman denied corruption and said he only recently learnt of the two transfers.

The judges, who are investigating the sprawling Diack case, placed Al-Khelaifi under the intermediate status of "assisted witness", meaning that he is not being examined at this stage but remains a person of interest in the investigation.

In Switzerland, Al-Khelaifi, who is also the head of the TV network beIN Sports, is in the crosshairs of an investigation into "private corruption", concerning the attribution of the broadcasting rights to two football World Cups.

Last week, the Court of Arbitration in Sport backed PSG's appeal against the governing body of European football's attempt to reopen an investigation into the club for financial wrongdoing.