The Qatari president of French soccer club Paris Saint-Germain, Nasser al-Khelaifi, is under formal investigation in France for alleged corruption related to Doha’s bid to host the athletics world championship, his lawyers said on Thursday.
Two other sources said Khelaifi and a close associate were questioned by investigators in March in relation to the bidding process for the 2017 athletics event. Qatar was unsuccessful in its bid to host the championships, which went to London. But Qatar did go on to secure the rights to hold the 2019 world championships to be held in October. The judicial source said the investigation into Khelaifi’s alleged wrongdoing spanned both bidding processes.
The move by an investigative judge is a demonstration of the broadening scope of France’s probe into a suspected web of corruption once rife in world athletics, including bribes to cover up athletes’ positive drugs tests.
“The judge has made a mistake. Nasser has no involvement at all,” Renaud Semerdjian told Reuters. “His name does not appear in the entire procedural file.” Semerdjian also questioned the competence of French prosecutors to delve into matters he said took place outside of France.
Khelaifi, 45, is deeply involved with sports and sporting events in Qatar. He serves as chairman of Oryx Qatar Sports Investments and the Qatar Tennis Federation, alongside his role as president of Paris Saint-Germain. He is also a minister without portfolio in the Qatari government.
The judge’s decision means Khelaifi is now formally treated as a suspect and takes the legal process one step closer to trial. Under French law, however, a suspect is not formally charged with a crime unless he is sent to trial.
French prosecutors this week recommended that Lamine Diack, the Senegalese former head of the IAAF, and his son stand trial for a host of suspected illicit practices, committed over a number of years with the active involvement of athletes and their federations.
French prosecutors began their investigation into Diack in 2015, shortly after the IAAF’s ethics commission and the World Anti-Doping Authority (WADA) uncovered evidence that a Russian athlete paid a six-figure sum to cover up a positive test.