The mother of two looks out the window from her apartment at a secret address.
She discovers the car driving slowly by and stiffens up; she is in danger.
She blew the whistle on corruption in Qatar
For over ten years Qatari whistleblower Phaedra Al-Majid has lived in fear for her own and her children’s lives.
Phaedra Al-Majid and her two sons have barely settled in their new neighbourhood, before she notices.
The cars that drive past her house. Slowly. Up and down the narrow street.
Sometimes a Mercedes. Other times a Lamborghini or Mini.
She decided to start taking photos of them.
Al-Majid felt that the fear was gripping her. They had only recently fled.
Once again, to a secret address under the protection of the FBI.
The cars had local, American licence plates. But the stickers on the cars were unmistakeable.
They were large.
And they showed the head of the Qatari head of state, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.
Bergen, October 2022
– You can see here. These are the cars, Phaedra Al-Majid tells us, and finds the photos on her phone.
– They are doing this to frighten me.
In an exclusive interview with TV 2, Al-Majid tells her story as one of the whistleblowers in the greatest corruption scandal football has ever seen.
Of the 22 people who decided to award the World Cup to the desert state, 16 have either been suspended, charged, or jailed.
– I never planned to become the Qatari whistleblower. I just told my story, and from there the story took on a life of its own, she says in a low voice.
In FIFA’s own inquiry into the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, Al-Majid has been described as “the Qatari whistleblower”.
Her car was recently broken into. Nothing was stolen, but the airbag had been removed.
– I called the police, and they told me to think of it as a warning.
TV 2 has been in contact with Qatari authorities and the World Cup committee. They write, among other things, that Al-Majid's claims were considered not to be credible in FIFA's own report. Read the full answer at the bottom of the article.
Al-Majid knows the risk of speaking to journalists. Doing so previously has been a painful experience.
But Lise Klaveness’ speech at the FIFA Congress inspired her.
– I know the country (Qatar) knows where I am now. They know my exact address. I want to keep them away from my children.
That is the reason why she has decided for this interview to take place in Norway.
– I cannot stop the country from doing what they’re doing to me. But I can keep them away from my children, Phaedra tells TV 2.
Though she has moved countless times to keep her address hidden, she has been sought out, hacked, and has received calls from unknown numbers.
She calls them «silent threats».
This is Phaedra Al-Majid’s unpolished version of what she witnessed one night in 2010, how she has felt her life has since been under threat, and how she has felt betrayed by FIFA.
The Arab-american woman was part of the innermost circle working on the Qatari World Cup bid, in charge of international press.
No western journalists initially cared about the Qatari bid, she says.
– They thought it was a joke that this country, with no footballing tradition or passion, would be considered to host the World Cup.
Her job was among other things to ensure that the committee leaders knew what they should answer if they were asked about topics like migrant workers, homosexuality, and women’s rights.
– But nobody asked those questions. I think that was one of the things that helped Qatar win.
Under the leadership of the then Emir’s son, they were a small close-knit group who travelled the world together lobbying.
– It was fun to start with, Al-Majid tells us.
But it didn’t take long before she realised how serious it was.
– The focus was to win. It was obvious that we were to play by «any rules necessary».
The CAF Congress in Angola was central to their plans, which Qatar had sponsored with £1,2 million (GBP).
Qatar thus ensured that they were the only nation to present their plans there.
– It was a success. Qatar outsmarted every other bidding committee; Al-Majid reminisces.
But that was not the only thing that happened in Angola, the whistleblower tells us.
Angola, Luanda, January 2010
Midnight was approaching in Luanda, capital city of Angola.
Al-Majid was alone in her hotel room after a long day of work, when the phone rang.
– I was asked to come to the suite of Hassan Al-Thawadi (general secretary of the Qatari World Cup bid, journalist’s note).
The caller to her room gave her an instruction; she was to translate between French and Arabic.
The visit to Al-Thawadi’s suite was to change her life dramatically.
– You must not speak of this to anybody. Nobody must know, Hassan said afterwards.
But Al-Majid spoke.
First to someone she thought of as a good friend and colleague, Nasser Al-Khater, CEO of the Qatari World Cup committee.
He too told her to stay silent, and never speak with anybody about what she had seen.
– So, what really happened inside Hassan Al-Thawadi’s suite that night in Angola?
– One by one I met all the African FIFA members who were to vote over the World Cup bid. I witnessed a very simple transaction. «We will give you money, 1,5 million dollars to your federation. In return you will vote for us».
The FIFA members in the room were Issa Hayatou, Jacques Anouma and Amos Adamu, who all had significant influence in deciding who would win the bid.
At one point she starts laughing.
– It was surreal. It was too easy and too bizarre, to be honest.
– It wasn’t anything like what you see in the movies, with a suitcase full of money. It was very simple. And very shocking.
But the mood in the room was easy to read. It wasn’t long until South Africa was to host the World Cup. Now it was the Arab world’s turn.
Two months later Al-Majid was fired from the bidding committee.
– Nasser gave me the message. You’re out.
She was given three days to leave Qatar and did not even have time to retrieve the medical journals for one of her sons, who is severely disabled.
– I understood that I had been fired from the bidding committee but did not believe I would have to leave the country.
– How can you be certain that the corruption was carried out?
– I am sure that money was paid in exchange for votes. Everything that has been brought to light since shows this.
The World Cup committee says they are 100% confident in the integrity of their bid.
«The former employee of the Qatar bid has repeated allegations that were previously retracted, altered documentation to serve an agenda, and continuously lied on the record», they say in a statement.
One of the cases Al-Majid refers to is Julio Grondona, former Vice President of FIFA.
USA, December 2010
When FIFA President Sepp Blatter on December 2, 2010, announced that the tiny desert state had won the bidding war, Phaedra Al-Majid could not bear to watch.
– It was too emotional for me.
She knew Qatar would win.
– I should have put some money on it. I would have been rich then because nobody else thought they would.
The awarding of the World Cup to Qatar sent shock waves through the footballing world.
Behind the scenes the rumours that Qatar had bought the World Cup had already started to swirl.
The FBI had in secret started investigating corruption among the heads of FIFA.
Phaedra was contacted by a British journalist and decided to pass on all the documentation she had.
At the same time, she intended to speak up about what she had witnessed in Al-Thawadi’s hotel room.
The precondition was that she would remain anonymous.
What she didn’t know was that the case of the Qatari whistleblower had already reached the UK parliament.
– Suddenly the story was out in the open. There weren’t many people in the hotel room that evening. And I was the only media specialist.
That meant it wasn’t hard to deduce who had been speaking.
– And that’s when the country attacked me. At my weakest. As a single mother, with no lawyer or resources.
Nasser Al-Khater sought her out in the United States with several lawyers and asked her to sign a document stating the allegations of corruption were made up.
If she didn’t sign, she would be sued for one million dollars, according to Al-Majid.
She signed it. It was her against the richest country in the world.
– Yes, I signed it and thought everything would be over. That I would be safe, and Qatar would be happy.
It did not turn out that way.
The threats kept coming.
– Strange things happened, there were e-mails, hackings, and phone calls. Qatar made sure they were a presence in my life, to put it that way.
One day three FBI agents appeared on her doorstep.
– We are here because of the threats against you, they told me. I was shocked and understood that this really had become serious.
FBI gave her a tape recorder so she could document all the threats.
– Then Garcia entered the fray, Al-Majid says with a bitter undertone.
USA, July 2012
Former lawyer Michael Garcia had been tasked by FIFA to investigate the bidding processes of both Russia and Qatar.
The allegations of corruption were everywhere, and the Qatari Mohammed Bin Hammam had been banned for life by FIFA, after making payments to other footballing leaders before the vote for the World Cup.
– We knew Qatar would win when Bin Hammam started working on the bid. But he had plans of his own, to succeed Sepp Blatter as President, Al-Majid states.
The Emir of Qatar eventually gave a direct order for Bin Hammam to use his influence to work for the World Cup bid, according to the whistleblower.
– He was the most influential person in FIFA, behind Blatter. I think he would have become the next president were it not for the World Cup.
The mother of two was asked if she could share her information with Garcia.
She would only speak with him under two conditions.
Everything she said would remain 100 percent confidential. And she could choose her own layer, fully paid for by FIFA.
– Qatar could not ever find out that I had been speaking with him.
Garcia made his promise to Al-Majid – nobody would ever know that the two had met.
She should never have trusted that promise.
– I met him five times. All documentation was delivered so it could be reviewed fully. Dates were checked. Even the ink on the paper was analysed.
She offered to take a polygraph test, where indicators such as a person’s blood pressure and pulse are measured whilst they are asked and answer a series of questions.
– But no, I was told that was not necessary.
One day she was contacted by Garcia over the phone and asked to come to his office. He wanted to know if she had pictures of herself in Angola.
– And I told him that no, I don’t have pictures of myself. But I could give you names, and I have all the business cards. But no, that wasn’t necessary either.
Months later she was awakened by a phone call from a friend.
– I have bad news, he said. Have you seen the papers? You come off really badly.
Al-Majid couldn’t understand what he meant.
– I had already signed that I had given a false statement, and that case was known in the media. What else could it be?
She was shocked when she opened the story.
FIFA’s investigation had cleared Qatar of all corruption allegations, and her identity was revealed through easily recognisable information.
– What was this? Michael Garcia promised me, in front of a lawyer, that I wouldn’t be identified. That was my deal with him. For my protection, for my children’s protection.
Another whistleblower, Bonita Mersiades, was also identified.
She found out that the lawyers who had been working with Garcia, also represented FIFA.
– I don’t know what Garcia’s agenda was. But it was definitely not uncovering the truth.
Al-Majid had had enough. Every time she had asked for anonymity and protection, she had been let down.
«I’m going public», she told her lawyer.
– And I told everything. How I was forced to sign the statement, how the FBI protected us due to death threats from the Qataris, and how my life had become a living hell.
Once again Al-Majid created headlines. Only this time, it was using her full name and picture.
She knows she will have to look over her shoulder for the rest of her life.
– I realised long ago that there will be no justice in this story. The rich and powerful win, and I’ve come to terms with that.
– Will the truth of the Qatar World Cup ever come to light?
– Yes, I think so. Maybe another whistleblower will come forward. I even think Sepp Blatter will tell the truth. Maybe.
– Do you regret taking that job in the bidding committee?
– I regret what it has exposed my children to, but not the rest of it. If we have highlighted corruption and human rights issues, I can live with that.
– Do you believe the threats against you will stop after the World Cup is over?
– I hope so. But that depends on the media. If they repeat what they did in Russia, I think this will be over. But if they keep asking questions, the threats will continue.
Answer from the Supreme Committee, Qatar 2022:
«We are 100% confident in the integrity of our bid.
Throughout the entire bidding process, we strictly adhered to the regulations that were in place.
The former employee of the Qatar bid has repeated allegations that were previously retracted, altered documentation to serve an agenda, and continuously lied on the record. Her allegations were deemed not to be credible in Michael Garcia’s report (published in 2017).
With the first Arab and Middle Eastern World Cup only weeks away, she has unfortunately decided to regurgitate these falsehoods. We urge you to consider the facts before providing further airtime to an individual who has proven herself on numerous occasions as an unreliable source.
We cooperated fully (unlike numerous other bids) with Mr. Garcia’s investigation and we reiterate our integrity and conduct throughout the bidding process and to this date».
Answer from FIFA:
TV 2 has contacted FIFA to request a comment on the statements of Pheadra Al-Majid.
«Allegations linked to the FIFA World Cup 2022 bid have already been extensively commented by FIFA.In relation to this matter, please refer to the Report on the Inquiry into the 2018/2022 FIFA World Cup Bidding Process (the so-called “Garcia Report”), which was published by FIFA in June 2017.FIFA has no further comment».