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Special Report: Will graft claims hurt German affair with Qatar?

By Josie Cox and Regan E. Doherty

FRANKFURT/DOHA (Reuters) - Crowds in Doha exploded in jubilation when Sepp Blatter announced Qatar had won the right to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup last December.

Almost 3,000 miles away, a much smaller group also celebrated the surprise win. On the third floor of a grey office building in an upmarket residential district of Frankfurt, a team from German architecture firm Albert Speer & Partner GmbH (AS&P) popped champagne bottles and screamed with delight.

"We were speechless and had a spontaneous party. It was just before Christmas and the best present any of us ever could have hoped for," AS&P partner Axel Bienhaus told Reuters.

The architects were not the only Germans rejoicing that day. Dozens of German companies stand to benefit from Qatar's World Cup win; the successful bid should also help cement growing economic and political ties between Germany and Qatar.

"Qatar's victory is in many ways a victory for Germany too," Bienhaus told Reuters.

"There is a considerable degree of suspicion that one cannot simply sweep aside, and I must expect that awarding this World Cup under these conditions needs to be examined anew," he told German television, referring to Qatar.

A PIPELINE OF BILLIONS

However it won host rights for the world's biggest sports event, Qatar's ambitions are, by any measure, extraordinary.

The government in the gas-rich state has allocated a whopping 40 percent of its budget between now and 2016 to infrastructure projects, including $11 billion on a new international airport, $5.5 billion on a deepwater seaport and $1 billion for a transport corridor in the capital, Doha. It will spend $20 billion on roads.

Much of that was bound to be built anyway. But according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch estimates, Qatar will spend about $65 billion preparing for the tournament, including building nine new stadiums and renovating three at an estimated cost of about $2 billion apiece.

Much of that is expected to be designed and built by German companies.

Deutsche Bahn is already at work on a 17 billion euro, 320-km (200 mile) train line system in Doha, the capital. The project, one of the biggest foreign deals in German industrial history, will link the World Cup stadiums and won't wrap up until 2026, four years after the Cup.

Germany's largest builder Hochtief will also construct the country's flagship project, Lusail City. The development, named for a desert flower, is the largest ever in Qatar. Owned by Qatari Diar, the real estate arm of the country's sovereign fund, it will transform a small mountain of sand alongside a highway in dusty northern Doha into a verdant 38-sq km (15 sq mile) city for 200,000 people.

Hochtief will also build a separate rail network for Lusail City with 27 train stations, as well as Barwa Commercial Avenue, an 8.5-km (5.3 mile) shopping arcade with around 600 new retail units, 1,300 residential units and offices. Valued at $467 million, the project is due to be completed by the end of this year.

And Hochtief has provided planning services for a 40-km Qatar-Bahrain causeway, linking the country to neighboring Bahrain. Though the project has been long delayed, Qatar's successful World Cup bid may provide new momentum, with nearby Bahrain absorbing some of the tourist inflow in its hotels. Other contractors for the project include French group Vinci.

When bids to build the new stadiums open, Hochtief "would certainly be interested", a spokesman for the construction group said. In December, Herbert Luetkestratkoetter, then Hochtief's Chief Executive, told Spiegel magazine that there was a "declaration of intent" that the company will be involved in the World Cup.

German conglomerate Siemens and steel group ThyssenKrupp are also tipped by analysts and traders to be frontrunners in the race for contracts, up against everyone from South Korea's Daewoo to Luxembourg-based Arcelor Mittal.

DOWN THE CHAIN

And it's not just the big names. At an industrial trade exhibition in Qatar last month, German firms were the second most numerous after those from Qatar's Gulf neighbor United Arab Emirates. Many were small- and mid-sized companies from the country's famed "Mittelstand" -- firms like Weka, a tiny Stuttgart-based specialist manufacturer of aluminum door handles and locks.

"There is huge potential in Qatar, obviously," said Weka's sales manager Matthias Imber, standing behind the counter at the company's exhibit at the mammoth expo.

"We met this week with a hotel that will have 600 rooms. All of these rooms will need to be fitted with door handles. This is a great amount to start off with, and hopefully we will move on to bigger projects."

At a stand touting the hair and hand dryers made by a company called Starmix, based in the state of Baden Wuerttemberg, sales manager Katrin Kotthaus sketched out the opportunity: to meet FIFA requirements, Qatar will need to increase hotel room capacity to 95,000 from 10,000 by 2022. The new stadiums, which will host an estimated 500,000 visitors, will also need thousands of dryers.

"Wherever there is a public toilet, you need an electric hand dryer," she said, adding that Starmix had already supplied hair dryers for Qatari hotels including the Kepinski and the Grand Hyatt.

German companies are there to help sell those plans, too. When the FIFA delegation visited Qatar last September to assess the strength of the country's bid, it was Berlin-based event planning firm Atkon that created the 39-minute interactive show to wow the visiting inspectors. Slogan: "Expect Amazing".

Little wonder that trade between the two countries has boomed. Up until a little more than a decade ago, Germany lagged in terms of exports to Qatar. Since then it has passed Britain, France and other rivals.

Two weeks after the FIFA vote in December, German magazine Der Spiegel predicted Germany AG could see an even bigger financial boost from the Qatar World Cup than it did from its own World Cup in 2006.

A few weeks after the host nation decision was announced, remembers AS&P's Bienhaus, a colleague got a phone call from Qatari Emir Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani "with a single message: 'I love my Germans!'"

STRATEGIC STAKES

Qatar also sees opportunity in its German connections. It has developed close ties, and even taken strategic stakes, in some of the German companies with which it's doing World Cup business.

Qatar and Deutsche Bahn's connections include a joint venture to develop the metro and national rail network.

Qatar's state-owned sovereign wealth fund -- estimated to have assets worth around $70 billion -- last year bought a 10 percent stake in Hochtief. One analyst, who would not be named because he was not authorized to speak publicly, said Qatar may increase its ownership in the coming months.

"Qatar wants to develop the infrastructure within the country, and saw a natural fit with Hochtief," said Abdul Hakeem Mostafawi, CEO of HSBC Qatar and an adviser to Qatar's Sovereign Wealth Fund on the acquisition. "From a number of points of view, they saw that (Hochtief) could add value. It is known as a very strong player globally."

John Sfakianakis, chief economist at Banque Saudi Fransi in Saudi Arabia, sees Qatar's stake in Hochtief stake as part of a clear trend. "Over the last few years, Qatar has shown a clear interest in German companies. It wants to benefit through import appetite, but also as an investor.

"For the Germans, it's high tide. It's great," Sfakianakis said. "German companies are competitive, and they're willing to go to the region and to Qatar, and share their experience in building."

THE POLITICS OF MONEY

It also makes good political sense. One of the keys to the fast-growing economic ties between the two countries is the carefully nurtured diplomatic bond between Berlin and Doha.

According to Helene Rang, Deputy Chairperson of the Berlin-based German Near and Middle East Association (NUMOV), the good relationship between Qatar and Germany really took off when then Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder visited Qatar in 2005.

The visit by Schroeder, who is currently the honorary Chairman of NUMOV, is widely credited by analysts and economists with opening the way for Qatar's $9.89 billion purchase of a 10 percent stake in Porsche Automobil Holding in 2009. Martin Bay, the Chairman of the Board of Managing Directors at Deutsche Bahn International, is also a Chief Executive officer of NUMOV, while Bernd Romanski, board member of Hochtief's Facility Management business, sits on the board.

Close political ties can help when anyone else tries to muscle in on Germany's game. When Spain's largest building firm Actividades de Construccion y Servicios, S.A. (ACS) launched a hostile takeover bid for Hochtief at the end of last year, German Chancellor Angela Merkel made it clear she disapproved and arranged for Hochtief's Luetkestratkoetter to be introduced to Qatar's economy minister at a reception hosted by Germany's President Christian Wulff.

Qatar's sovereign wealth fund bought its 10 percent stake soon after, diluting ACS' stake and holding off a takeover.

"I think it's wonderful that the government and, in particular, Ms Merkel, are constantly offering platforms for German industry to conduct economic talks on the sidelines of political talks," Hochtief's Luetkestratkoetter told Spiegel magazine in December.

"After all, it isn't the job of governments to intervene in economic processes."

READY TO HELP

Will German calls for an investigation into Qatar's winning bid threaten all that? Could Qatar axe contracts with German companies? Perhaps. But the ties are strong.

To win over FIFA delegates, events planner Atkon "transported the audience onto the pitch of a virtual football game," said Sven Woerner, general manager of Atkon's Berlin branch, who points out that the company was also pivotal to Deutsche Bahn winning the rail network contract in 2009.

The presentation's coup de grace "was at the very end, when Zinedine Zidane appeared and the FIFA delegation thought that this must be a hologram projection".

It helped too that famed former German player and manager Franz Beckenbauer has been onside. Beckenbauer has not said if he voted for Qatar in the first round. But it can't hurt that the man nicknamed Der Kaiser, or "The Emperor", has publicly expressed his support for Qatar as host, even if he has also suggested the Cup might better be played in the winter months because of soaring summer temperatures. If the Qataris need help with scheduling, you can be sure some German company will be ready to help.

(Editing by Sara Ledwith and Simon Robinson)

(This story corrects the value of Deutsch Bahn contract to 17 billion euros in section 2)