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LONDON – The United States hopes Qatar will cooperate with the World Cup bidding investigation, Attorney General Loretta Lynch said on Wednesday, insisting that the Gulf nation being a key ally in the fight against Islamic State militants was irrelevant in any considerations about pursuing a corruption case.
The U.S. is working closely on the FIFA investigation with Swiss authorities, whose case started by probing the dual votes for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups five years ago.
Qatar's 2022 bid, rather than Russia's successful 2018 campaign, has been subject to the heaviest scrutiny amid waves of bribery allegations, as yet unproven.
"We will follow the facts and the evidence where it leads us," Lynch said at a briefing in London. "And regardless of who is handling that investigation, whether it's us or the Swiss, I think that Qatar's role in it would hopefully be cooperative."
Qatar's vast al-Udeid air base outside the capital, Doha, serves as the forward headquarters for U.S. Central Command, and hosts dozens of aircraft participating in the U.S.-led campaign targeting the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq.
The importance of the military installation to the U.S. was highlighted by first lady Michelle Obama visiting last month, but Lynch said diplomatic and military relations with Qatar are not a factor in deciding whether to act on any evidence of corruption in the World Cup vote.
"I think that we make our considerations based on the considerations of the case, based on the evidence, based on the facts, and based on what's appropriate to handle if we were to discover a problem or corruption or a violation of law that led to a US case," Lynch said. "We would move on that basis."
Lynch has spearheaded the U.S. Department of Justice investigation into soccer corruption, which erupted in public in May when 14 people were indicted including FIFA executives. A further 16 men were charged last week over bribes and kickbacks, with two FIFA vice presidents arrested while in Zurich for an executive committee meeting.
The U.S. expressed disappointment that one of those vice presidents — CONMEBOL President Juan Angel Napout — "sought to portray himself as an agent of reform" at FIFA while allegedly profiting from corruption.
"It is incumbent upon FIFA to ensure they have the appropriate screening processes, and that they have enough of a view of the specific methodologies that they need to adopt, that regardless of where they come from, there are methodologies and compliance mechanisms that will make the organization stronger," Lynch said at the international affairs think-tank Chatham House where she delivered a speech on the global fight against terrorism.
The North and Central American and Caribbean Confederation has seen its past three leaders indicted in the U.S. bribery case, with acting president Alfredo Hawit of Honduras the latest to be detained. With such mistrust surrounding CONCACAF in particular, the body decided this week it would go without a president until May.
"You have to judge people by their actions and see how the next round of leadership handles this responsibility because it is a responsibility both in terms of CONCACAF in particular, CONMEBOL also, but FIFA as a larger organization," Lynch said. "People have to be vigilant, and the organization has to be prepared to take action itself in terms of holding its leaders accountable."
Lynch declined to discuss suspended FIFA President Sepp Blatter, who is a target of the U.S. case but has not been formally named. Blatter is being investigated by the Swiss over a payment to Michel Platini which led to the UEFA president also being suspended by FIFA.
Although the U.S. investigation involves alleged corruption in the Brazilian soccer leadership, Lynch would not comment if they have uncovered any wrongdoing involving deals connected to the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
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