November 22 – Despite Qatar’s World Cup organisers being at pains to stress that the FIFAGate corruption trial in New York has nothing to do with them, yet another connection – however tenuous – has emerged between the 2022 bid process and the three football powerbrokers on trial for allegedly taking multiple bribes.
Jose Marin (Brazil), Manuel Burga (Peru) and Juan Angel Napout (Paraguay) have all pleaded not guilty to charges of fraud and money-laundering.
On Tuesday prosecution witness Santiago Pena, testifying for a second day, implicated Qatar Sports Investments and Paris Saint-Germain chief Nasser Al-Khelaifi, one of the Gulf state’s most prominent businessmen, in a scandal that produces fresh revelations on a daily basis.
Having already told the court on Monday that eight South American officials who received bribes in exchange for broadcasting and sponsorship rights were all given code names relating to different car brands, Pena, who was a financial manager from 2009 to 2015 at Argentine-based sports marketing firm Full Play, described how he had also been involved in secret negotiations called the “New York project.”
Pena revealed that al-Khelaifi had been negotiating to buy a majority stake in Full Play before the company and its founders, father and son Hugo and Mariano Jinkis, were among those charged in the US justice department’s investigation.
He said the talks with Al-Khelaifi and QSI ended shortly after a raft of officials were detained in Zurich in that infamous police raid in May 2015.
Al-Khelaïfi is already at the centre of corruption allegations over World Cup TV rights. Criminal proceedings against him, former FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke, and an unnamed businessman working in sports rights were announced by the office of Switzerland’s attorney general last month.
He is alleged to have struck illegal deals with Valcke – FIFA’s secretary general for eight years until his firing in January 2016 – for the award of broadcasting rights for the 2026 and 2030 World Cup.
After being interrogated at the end of October over the latest claims, he emerged from the Swiss attorney general’s office (OAG) in Bern to proclaim his innocence. “I have nothing to hide,” he told reporters.
Pena made it clear in court that only he, Hugo and Mariano Jinkis and Full Play accountant Sergio Rabinovich were aware of the alleged negotiations. He testified that after the indictments were made public, he deleted emails discussing the potential sale.
“I did it in order to protect the company,” he said.
Pena reached an agreement this year with US prosecutors to testify in exchange for not being charged. “I always considered myself a completely small fish in this issue,” he said.
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