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Monday, May 23, 2011
Qatar bid officials question claims

Associated Press

DOHA, Qatar -- Qatar welcomed an investigation into alleged corruption in its victorious 2022 World Cup bid but said Monday the evidence put forward so far was false, unsubstantiated and coming from a whistle-blower who was probably a former employee "with a significant axe to grind."

Qatar has been on the defensive since the Sunday Times submitted evidence to a British parliamentary inquiry earlier this month alleging that two African FIFA executives were paid $1.5 million in bribes to vote for Qatar's successful 2022 bid on the December ballot. It has denied the allegations.

Since then, FIFA president Sepp Blatter has said a former bid employee would be interviewed Wednesday about the claims as part of its wider investigation into alleged corruption in the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.

"The Bid Committee welcomes a thorough investigation into the allegations made against it," the committee said in a statement. "However, such an investigation must surely only be carried out by a properly constituted body with due authority and independence where our side of the story can be heard. It is wholly inappropriate for any examination of the bid committee's affairs to be based on unsubstantiated hearsay and inaccurate journalism."

Qatar offered no fresh evidence to refute the claims and, instead, attempted to cast doubt on the Sunday Times allegations, suggesting the methods it used to build the case called into question the "credibility of the reporters, their motivations and extent to which ... the evidence in any way can be relied upon."

The bid committee argued the allegations contained no firsthand evidence of bribes and were based solely on hearsay. It also criticized the use of undercover reporters posing as "corrupt representatives of the United States," as well as testimony from one individual -- Michel Zen Ruffinen -- whom the committee says later retracted his claims.

"We would caution anyone against placing reliance on uncorroborated statements made by an embittered ex-employee without a full and balanced understanding of that individual's personal and professional circumstances. Without knowing the identity of the alleged whistle-blower, the details of the allegations made or the circumstances in which they have been made, it is impossible for the Bid Committee to respond to these allegations any further at this stage," the committee said.

In an often angry and defensive one-page statement, the bid committee went on to complain about the British Parliament's publishing of the allegations, which it called "distressing, insulting and incomprehensible."

The bid beat the United States in a five-nation race in December, despite concerns the Gulf nation was too small and the weather there too hot during the summer months.

"What is concerning and unfair is that there appear to be those who are unable to accept that a team from a country like Qatar could perform in this way and are ready -- on the basis of no evidence -- to assume the worst," the bid committee wrote. "Qatar is excited at the prospect of hosting one of the world's greatest sporting events and is determined to deliver a World Cup truly deserving of football fans around the world."

Harold Mayne-Nicholls, who led the FIFA inspection team, was in Qatar on Monday to speak at a stadium design and development conference. He wouldn't talk about the latest corruption allegations. But he insisted that neither he nor any members of the inspection committee ever received anything from Qatar nor did he receive "a single phone call or a single letter" pressuring the committee to emphasize the positive or negative aspects of any of the bids.

"Nobody approached a single member of the inspection committee for nothing," he said.

Mayne-Nicholls said he still had concerns about the heat in Qatar, but argued that authorities had the time and the ability to solve the problems and that it would host "a wonderful World Cup."