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Monday, July 11, 2011

Whistleblower retracts allegation of Qatar bribery of FIFA

FIFA to pronounce its judgement on the corruption charges against the Asian Football Confederation chairman Mohamed Bin Hammam on July 23. (File Photo)

FIFA to pronounce its judgement on the corruption charges against the Asian Football Confederation chairman Mohamed Bin Hammam on July 23. (File Photo)
A whistle blower who alleged that Qatar had bribed three African members of world soccer body FIFA’s executive committee to win its bid to host the 2022 World Cup has withdrawn her statement and admitted that it was a fabrication.
The withdrawal constitutes a major victory for the Gulf State, which has denied any wrongdoing in its bid campaign and weakens calls by a British parliamentary committee and the German soccer association for an investigation of the awarding of the tournament.

Phaedra Almajid, the whistle blower who publicly identified herself with the withdrawal of her statement, had alleged that Qatar had paid $1.5 million each to FIFA executive committee members Issa Hayatou, Jacques Anouma and Amos Adamu, to secure their votes.
The allegations are part of the worst corruption scandal in FIFA’s 107-year history. The three FIFA officials are among 10 executive committee members who have been tainted by allegations of corruption or improper behaviour in the past nine months. FIFA’s executive committee is scheduled to pronounce judgement on corruption charges against Asian Football Confederation chairman Mohamed Bin Hammam, a Qatari national, on July 23.

Ms. Almajid, was employed as an international media specialist at Qatar’s 2022 bid between May 2009 and March 2010.

She said in media interviews, including with The Guardian, that she fabricated the allegations because she had felt “hurt” when she was removed from her job. Ms. Almajid said she had been “furious” at the bid committee’s suggestion that she was not handling the international media competently, and was “acting irrationally.” Ms. Almajid asserted that she fabricated the allegations “to show them (the bid committee) I could control the international media.”

Ms. Almajid admitted to feeling “sorry” and “guilty” for having severely damaged the bid’s reputation. She said she never expected her fabricated stories to influence a British parliamentary enquiry into soccer governance or spark a FIFA investigation.

“The decision to make this admission is entirely my own,” Ms. AlMajid said in a statement made on a Website specifically created for her retraction. “I have not been subject to any form of pressure or been offered any financial inducement.”

Ms. Almajid’s retraction also casts doubt on the veracity of a letter British newspaper The Sunday Times sent to the British enquiry in May saying it had “credible” but “unproven” allegations that Qatar had paid bribes to secure votes for its bid.

Much of The Sunday Times assertions were based on reporting by undercover reporters posing as lobbyists who spoke to two FIFA executive committees, who were subsequently banned last year as well as aspiring World Cup bid fixers. The paper’s letter to the British parliamentary committee however was in part based on Ms. Almajid’s never-published allegations.

The committee said in a statement earlier this month that it was “appalled by the allegations of corruption” and called on FIFA to launch an independent investigation despite the fact that the Qatar bid committee had denounced them as fabricated. English consultant, Mike Lee, who worked for the Qatar bid, also denied the allegations in testimony to the committee.

The Guardian quoted parliamentary committee chairman John Whittingdale, as saying that he stood by the committee’s decision to publish the allegations against Qatar and the FIFA executive committee members even though Ms. AlMajid has withdrawn the charges.

“I can understand why Qatar would be upset about it,” he said, “but our intention was to stress that these were serious allegations which FIFA was not investigating. If it turns out it was all a fabrication, which is a good outcome for Qatar, that has come out because we published.”

FIFA said last month that it had sought to verify Ms. AlMajid’s investigations but had not been able to interview her because she refused to guarantee the accuracy of her information and had demanded a comprehensive witness protection program.

Ms. AlMajid said she had put up those conditions in the assumption that FIFA would not be able to meet them and therefore would not be able to involve her in its investigation.

She said she ultimately decided to admit her fabrication and go public because “if I remained anonymous it would only fix the story halfway, and that makes me feel guilty. I know I have done a lot of damage, and I really do want to apologize to the Qatar bid, Fifa, Adamu, Hayatou and Anouma.”

Ms. Almajid said she apologised to the Qatar authorities and had given a sworn an affidavit, in which the stated that she had made up the bribes story, and had fabricated and leaked an internal document to suggest that Qatar was considering financially bailing out of clubs in Argentina. The memo was later quoted in a story published by The Wall Street Journal.

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