Qatar funded £387m spy project after global backlash against their 2022 hosting win

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November 3 – News has broken in Switzerland of an alleged $387 million intelligence operation funded by Qatar to spy, gather information and destroy the reputations of football executives and who might be contrary to their interests and threaten their ability to complete the hosting of the World Cup.

The investigation by Swiss public broadcaster team ‘SRF Investigativ’ reveals details of how the Qataris allegedly took on the services of a former CIA agent and computer hackers in India to gather intelligence.

The Qatari spy ring was formed after the World Cup 2022 had been awarded and was an attempt to get control of the public agenda in the global consternation and backlash against Qatar, following the award of the hosting rights in 2010.

The SRF investigators point to documents that outlined the scope of the mission in terms of gaining intelligence and the alleged objective of controlling or negating voices within football that were critical of Qatar.

Appointed to lead the intelligence gathering was US firm Global Risk Advisors (GRA), which is staffed by former members of US intelligence agencies and whose founder Kevin Chalker is a former CIA operative.

“GRA proposes a strategic plan to return Qatar to a position of power and influence and proactively deter potential attacks,” said a GRA pitch document revealed in the SRF investigation.

SRF said found that “victims were at the mercy of the agents spying on them. Their email accounts, computers, phones, friends, and even family members became targets of Qatar’s shadow warriors.”

The investigation alleges that the SRF investigation shows that Switzerland was key to the Qatari intelligence operation.

According to SRF, “Chalker, at the behest of Qatar, travelled to Zurich for the purpose of bugging the hotel rooms of members of the Executive Committee and of journalists.”

The investigators name three individuals targeted by the Qatari spies, though it is understood that the list of primary target deemed as ‘dangerous’ to Qatar’s interests numbers 30.

The three named are former German FA president Theo Zwanziger, former US Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati (who led the 2022 bid against Qatar), and former FIFA insider and Sepp Blatter advisor Peter Hargitay.

Hargitay, while sitting at all the right tables, was likely a primary target because of his advisory role with the Australia 2022 bid and his close relationship with billionaire Frank Lowy who was then president of the Australian FA.

The Qataris allegedly invested $10 million in spying on Zwanziger, including targeting his family to influence him that a Qatar World Cup was good for the world. Zwanziger, who also sat on FIFA’s executive committee, was an outspoken critic, even at one point calling Qatar the “cancer of world football”.

Zwanziger told: “There were a number of people who steered me in that direction. Of course, that was in Qatar’s interest. To bring about precisely this change in thinking…”

“What they underestimated, however, is that I did not give up my opinion in the process. This award was – as I once put it – a cancer of world football. From there came many currents that have damaged world football. I still have that opinion today.”

Zwanziger told SRF that he felt FIFA was obligated to act. “This is such a scandal. It should be taken up by those who are in charge. FIFA President Infantino would be the very first. But he won’t do that, of course, because he is a vassal of Qatar.”

Infantino has moved his home and family from FIFA’s headquarters in Zurich to Doha.

Gulati as a direct competitor of Qatar’s bid was a more obvious target, particularly in light of the complaints emanating from the US over the way the voting was handled and the various accusation of voting corruption that prompted the Garcia investigation. The hack on Gulati was complete, gathering more than 800 files and documents.

If attempts were made to discredit him they failed. He remained on FIFA’s executive committee and throughout the FifaGate scandal of 2015 that saw the FBI raid the Baur au Lac hotel in Zurich and the US Justice Department indict more than 40 of FIFA’s elected officials.

In 2016, having backed Jordan’s Prince Ali bin Hussein for the FIFA presidency, when Prince Ali withdrew after the first round of voting, he was instrumental in getting Prince Ali’s supporters to back Infantino and get him over the line. If anything history would suggest he has been asset for the Qataris though unlikely a result of the Qatari espionage.

What is interesting is that the Qataris allegedly had no problem in sanctioning a cyberattack on a US citizen, and one who would have been regarded as an FBI asset as it built its case against FIFA. The FBI prosecutes cybercrime.

Similarly in the Switzerland where Hargitay is a Swiss a national. Hargitay identified the attempt to hack his information in 2012 and made a criminal complaint. One that the Swiss authorities chose not to follow up.

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