Qatargate: World Cup Bribery Part of a Larger Scheme
So far, the “Qatargate” scandal has focused on bribes given to members of the European Parliament in exchange for whitewashing Qatar’s human rights record, in particular its labor policies. The aim of the whitewashing was not only to allow the World Cup to proceed smoothly, but also to build a long-term relationship with the European Union. However, some questions in the case are being avoided. First, is that the European Commission, not the Parliament, makes policy. So the question is, were Commission members also receiving bribes?
While no commissioner is under official investigation, one might wonder about Josep Borrell, European Commission vice president and EU foreign policy chief, who only last month gave a glowing report to the European Parliament as to how Qatar has improved its human rights record. Another case is Greece’s Margaritis Schinas, Commission vice president and Commissioner for Promoting Our European Way of Life, who recently praised Qatar’s “tangible progress on labor reforms”, after traveling to Doha on Nov. 20, and now says he was only expressing the Commission’s policy.
Secondly, there’s the whole question of why Qatar was chosen in the first place to host the World Cup and that takes us to the role of former French President Nicolas Sarkozy. In November, the former President of the International Federation of Football Association (FIFA), Joseph “Sepp” Blatter, told Swiss media that picking Qatar to host the World Cup was a mistake, and that, at the time, he had voted for the U.S. He added that the decision had been made through the intervention of Nicolas Sarkozy at a 2010 Elysée meeting with then-FIFA official Michel Platini, the head of the European football federation, as well as the then-Qatari Crown Prince (now Emir), Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani. Platini has confirmed the meeting, saying that while Sarkozy did not tell him directly to vote for Qatar, he was convinced it “would be good” if he did.
Why choose Qatar — which is not only the smallest country to ever host the event, but one that has the worst weather conditions, and is not a particularly major tourist destination? The obvious issue is gas. Europe’s dependence on Russian gas started more than 10 years ago, while Qatar sits on the largest gas field in the world and is the world’s largest LNG exporter.
Fast forward to Jan. 28, 2022, when European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen met President Joe Biden at the White House to discuss replacing Russian gas supplies. They signed a long-term agreement for the U.S. to ensure gas supplies for Europe, and Qatar was also discussed as a source. To make that latter point clear, three days later, on Jan. 31 Biden met with Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani. According to the White House readout, topics on the agenda included “regional and global challenges and to deepen defense and security cooperation as major non-NATO Allies….”
While they also discussed the World Cup and Qatar’s need to implement labor reforms, Biden lavished praise on the Sheikh: Our “partnership in Qatar has been central to many of our most vital interests,” he said, including “insuring the stability of global energy supplies”. He also announced the designation of Qatar as a non-NATO major ally. Just prior to the meeting, Qatar had signed with Boeing a $20 billion deal for Qatar Airways to buy 34 of Boeing 777 cargo planes. Note that Qatar hosts the Pentagon’s Central Command and a huge airbase.
While the bribery scandal apparently involves $1.5 million, this is small change compared to the $20 billion Boeing contract. The question is, will all this come out or will it stay on the level of the small fries?