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Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Qatar World Cup committee employee held for corruption

Ibhais, a public relations specialist, was initially sentenced to five years' prison on charges including misuse of public funds and bribery.

A former employee of Qatar’s World Cup organising committee lost his appeal against a corruption conviction Wednesday as relatives and activists raised concerns about the proceedings and said FIFA should have intervened.

Abdullah Ibhais, who has been on hunger strike and claims his prosecution was prompted by his concerns over migrant workers, was jailed for three years by Qatar’s Court of Appeal.

Ibhais, a public relations specialist, was initially sentenced to five years’ prison on charges including misuse of public funds and bribery.

The Jordanian insists his confession was coerced and that he was charged after he criticised the handling of a strike by migrant workers in Qatar, they say. On Wednesday, his family said the hearing lasted less than a minute, describing it as a “kangaroo court”.

Ibhais has been on hunger strike for 30 days and has lost 20 kilos (44 pounds) in weight, they said. However, a Qatari official said the case “followed all the proper legal procedures and protocols”.

Read more: Qatar World Cup sparks healthy controversy across multiple issues

Ibhais was convicted on the basis of “strong and credible evidence against him for soliciting bribes to influence the outcome of a state-funded procurement process… much more than the defendant’s own confession”, the official added.

“The State of Qatar rejects in the strongest possible terms any assertion that the ruling was influenced by factors other than its unwavering commitment to justice and the rule of law,” the official said.

Absolutely false

Ibhais’s family, in a statement published by the British-based Business and Human Rights Resource Centre, also said he was not brought to court to hear the verdict and that the judge did not hear the defence case.

Human Rights Watch said the case should have been thrown out over “serious due process violations”, and criticised FIFA for not speaking out.

“Not only did FIFA remain silent throughout this trial, it also failed to send a representative to court despite having a large delegation in Qatar at the moment,” MENA researcher Hiba Zayadin told AFP.

A FIFA spokesperson said the world body had been following the case and would consider Wednesday’s ruling before commenting in more detail.

“Any person deserves a trial that is fair, where due process is observed and respected,” the spokesperson said. The World Cup organising committee said it was “ludicrous” to claim that the case was triggered by Ibhais’s defence of migrant workers.

“Mr Ibhais’ post-conviction allegations that the SC conspired against him because of his views on migrant workers are ludicrous, defamatory, and absolutely false,” it said in a statement to AFP.

The treatment of migrant labourers, mainly from South Asia, in Qatar has been a touchstone issue in the buildup to the World Cup, with some national teams highlighting the problem.

Read more: Judicial inquiry initiated against awarding Qatar 2022 World Cup Venue?

Rights groups accuse Qatar of using cheap migrant labour, who face punishing and sometimes dangerous conditions, to build its mega-projects including World Cup stadiums.

The country rejects all criticism and insists it has reformed its labour laws and adopted a nondiscriminatory minimum wage, worth around $1.30 (1.16 euros) an hour.

AFP with additional input by GVS News Desk