Abdullah Ibhais: Former Qatar World Cup media manager loses bribery appeal

Allegations of mistreatment of some migrant construction workers have surrounded the Qatar 2022 World Cup, one former PR worker told ITV News that authorities were aware of what was going on, reports ITV News Sports Editor Steve Scott

Abdullah Ibhais was once a communications manager at the heart of Qatar’s World Cup operation; today, after more than 30 days in prison on hunger strike, he starts a three-year sentence for bribery linked to the awarding of a social media contract.

'I am concerned, of course, but there should be a moment where someone is willing to take the risk and speak up their mind,' Ibhais said

Recently he recorded a voice message from jail: “For me this was the last resort after I was denied the chance to a fair trial.

"It is very hard and I am weakening but this is my last resort and I’m going to go through with it until I am proven innocent because this is how things are.

"I am innocent, I have done nothing wrong.”

Ibhais claims his conviction is directly related to his criticism of the handling of a migrant workers strike two years ago. He also claims he was coerced into signing a confession.

Abdullah Ibhais is a former senior World Cup 2022 media manager.

We met in the capital Doha while he was on bail, and he told me: “I became very critical of how things were and getting rid of someone like that is good. It can be an example for everybody.”

Ibhais claims he was critical of the handling of the migrant workers' situation

Amnesty International says Ibhais’ case has been “fraught with fair trial violations” and his arrest “appears to amount to arbitrary detention in retaliation for speaking out about his experiences.” Human Rights Watch added: “Qatari authorities appear to have robbed Ibhais of his right to a fair trial in proceedings that raise serious concerns about Qatar’s justice system.” Fair Square has tried to persuade FIFA to intervene - director Nick McGeehan says football’s governing body has effectively turned a blind eye: “I think FIFA’s response has been dismal.

"They didn't respond appropriately to the complaint, effectively ghosted Abdullah.

"They didn't offer any concern about the allegations he presented. “They haven't made any explicit call for a fair trial, which is really just scandalous at this point.

"And you do wonder how long sponsors and other actors will want to, you know, want to stand and attach their name to an organisation that increasingly has become a byword for corruption and spinelessness.”

'An organisation that increasingly has become a byword for corruption and spinelessness'

In August 2019, Ibhais says he went to investigate thousands of workers who were striking because they hadn’t been paid for several months. “Workers were outside their homes, there was no electricity and no air conditioning. This was August (when temperatures can reach 50 Celsius) and they had no food and no water. “Imagine you are not home; you're working under dire conditions.

"You have no food, no water and your family is expecting to receive money.

"Psychologically it was a nightmare.

"Almost all the workers who spoke to us were crying when talking about their families, and what (conditions) they have to face.”

Ibhais claims some migrant workers were living in "dire conditions"

He says he reported his findings to colleagues at the Supreme Committee which is overseeing delivery of Qatar’s World Cup. WhatsApp messages seen by ITV News seem to back Ibhais’ claim that he was uncomfortable in stating publicly that none of the workers was engaged on World Cup projects when Ibhais says more than 100 were. In one message, Ibhais writes: “We need to fix it (workers’ pay), then do the PR part. Lying is not Qatar’s way and should not be.”

There is though no evidence that Ibhais’ conviction is related in any way to his stance on migrant workers' welfare.

However, nothing to substantiate those charges has been published either, despite the fact that World Cup organisers say video and audio evidence does exist.

Human rights groups say the Qataris have not been able to present any evidence of wrongdoing against Mr Ibhais. Credit: ITV News

He was investigated over bribery allegations linked to a social media contract and was charged as a result. Today, following Ibhais’ conviction, the Supreme Committee released a detailed statement outlining that the only involvement they had in their former employee’s case was to investigate an initial complaint made against him from outside the organisation, before passing their findings onto the “relevant public authorities.” The statement concluded: “Mr Ibhais’ post-conviction allegations that the Supreme Committee conspired against him because of his views on migrant workers are ludicrous, defamatory, and absolutely false.” They also pointed out that Ibhais had recently applied to work for them again as part of a PR agency: “Had this company’s application succeeded, Mr Ibhais would have been working for the same individuals he claims conspired against him 18 months earlier.” After he was charged initially Ibhais contacted FIFA and lodged a formal complaint about his treatment but he claimed to us that after initially engaging with him, FIFA stopped replying to his messages. We understand FIFA has looked closely at what has happened to Ibhais but appears unable to substantiate any connection between Ibhais’ conviction and his stance on workers welfare.

In a statement today, FIFA said: “Any person deserves a fair trial” but they would “consider today’s ruling before making any further comment". While scathing about FIFA’s response to Ibhais’ experience, Nick McGeehan also criticised the Qatari court’s verdict: “For which there is no evidence other than a forced confession." In response to today’s judgement, a Qatari government official said: “Misappropriation of state funds is a serious crime in Qatar. "Mr Ibhais was convicted following the careful examination of an abundance of strong and credible evidence against him for soliciting bribes to influence the outcome of a state-funded procurement process. "Mr Ibhais received legal advice and representation throughout.”