French authorities quiz PSG boss

PARIS • The Qatari boss of French football champions Paris Saint-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 yesterday.

The source said Al-Khelaifi was questioned on Wednesday by investigating magistrates. They 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$4.7 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 International Association of Athletics Federations (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 World Championships, 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 learnt only recently 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.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 24, 2019, with the headline 'French authorities quiz PSG boss'. Print Edition | Subscribe