Nasser Al Khelaifi, chairman of media group BeIN and president of football club Paris Saint-Germain (PSG), is under formal investigation for alleged corruption over Qatari bids to host world athletics championships, according to his lawyers.
Al Khelaifi was indicted by a French magistrate who said investigators suspect the Qatari of wanting to "buy" the 2017 World Championships and 2019 event. The defence claims he had no involvement in the alleged payments and the companies that have been implicated.
Judge Renaud van Ruymbeke suspects Al Khelaifi of having "validated" two payments totalling around $3.5 million (Dh12.9m) to Lamine Diack, the former president of the International Federation Athletics Championships (IAAF), to award Doha hosting rights for the 2017 World Championships.
The two payments from Oryx Qatar Sports Investments, an investment fund linked to the Qatari government, were made to Pamodzi Sports Marketing in October and November 2011, days before the vote to announce the winning bid for the 2017 World Championships that were eventually awarded to London. The IAAF ruled that Doha would have to wait two more years to host it.
Pamodzi was founded by Papa Massata Diack, a former marketing consultant at the IAAF and son of Lamine, who has been banned over allegations that he extorted hundreds of thousands of dollars from a Russian marathon runner who wanted to avoid a doping ban before the 2012 Olympics.
According to Le Monde newspaper, Lamine Diack was handed preliminary charges of "passive corruption" in March on suspicion he favoured the Qatari bid in exchange for money transferred to his son's company.
Lamine Diack was previously president of the IAAF for 16 years and a member of the International Olympic Committee.
The investigating magistrate using "mis en examen" powers can hold a suspect on charges until the completion of the enquiries. He was unable to attend a May 16 court hearing and media accounts said he had been summoned by the Emir of Qatar to attend a football championship in Doha.
A spokesperson for BeIN refused to comment, saying “it [the matter] does not relate to the company" in a statement to The National.
Al Khelaifi, 45, has been under investigation since March but his lawyer denies all allegations of wrongdoing.
Francis Szpiner and Renaud Semerdjian of STAS & Associates, Khelfaifi’s lawyers, said in the statement: "Nasser Al Khelaifi was neither a shareholder nor a director of Oryx in 2011. He was not directly or indirectly involved in Doha's bid to host the 2017 World Athletics Championships.
"Furthermore we remind you that at that time he had been placed on leave of absence from his operational activities within Al Jazeera Sport, having already been in charge for several months of negotiating the acquisition of Paris Saint Germain, of which he became chairman of the supervisory board on June 30, 2011. These facts do not concern him,” they added.
Mr Szipiner told Le Parisien that he believed that the case had been misunderstood. "You should know that the initial hearing of Nasser Al Khelaifi was only caused by regrettable confusion by the investigating magistrate who confused Oryx QSI, a purely private company run by his brother, with QSI a sovereign fund Qatari with Nasser Al-Khelaifi as president," he said.
The charges brought by the judge show that France is broadening its probe into a suspected network of corruption that has plagued athletics, most notably with bribes to cover up athlete doping.
The news of the investigation into Al Khelaifi comes just a day after Yousef Al Obaidly, chief executive of BeIN and a board member at French club Paris Saint-Germain, was handed preliminary charges of corruption by a French judicial court on March 28. The charges were into the bidding process for the 2019 championships, to be held in Doha from September 27 to October 6.