Raj was trying to get some equipment from the roof, way up at the top floor of the fashionable hotel he was building. He climbed onto a ladder on the scaffolding.
Then the ladder fell.
Then Raj fell.
Then came the pain.
Hundreds of thousands of guest workers are building the infrastructure needed to make 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar a global football party. Hundreds have lost their lives, while the tournament is being investigated by Swiss police as part of their investigation into corruption in FIFA. These are the stories of some of those who lost their life in Qatar, and their families, living in sorrow, while searching for answers.
Indu Kumari Ray did not feel any joy when her firstborn, a girl, was placed on her chest.
Her husband, Manoj, was a few years older than her, but she found him kind and considerate. Still there was no time for dreaming or trying to enjoy the moment. Kriti had been born into abject poverty—the land surrounding the little village wasn’t particularly fertile, and yet farming was the only possible career.
- I couldn’t feel any joy. I was so young, Indu told Dagbladet today.
- It hurt. It was a really unbelievable pain. Having a child was a big responsibility. The responsibility weighed on us. We were young, especially me. I was young. But the responsibility made us grownups.
Indu and her husband were penniless, and Nepal had just started to recover after ten years of civil war.
Indu Kumari Ray felt panic setting in. Kriti clung to her slender breast. The baby deserved a good life.
Indu had no idea. She just cried and cried.
It was the spring of 2008. Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani had made up his mind.
Sixty years of great skill, hard work, and plain luck, had made Qatar the richest country in the world. The world’s richest country deserved to host the world’s biggest party.
Although the first trace of oil had been discovered in Qatar as early as in 1938, it wasn’t until the Qataris gained independence from Britain in 1971, and the oil sector was nationalized, that the country saw the revenue rise for real. As the country’s wealth grew, Qatar – hungry for cultural and political capital as well – secured the rights to arrange several big sporting events, arts exhibitions, and trade fairs.
Now the Emir aimed for the biggest prize of them all. According to The Sunday Times, the country’s football president, the self-made billionaire Mohammed bin Hammam, began lobbying to get the FIFA World Cup, the biggest sporting event in the world, to the tiny, boiling hot emirate with no football pedigree whatsoever. Having held the presidency in the Asian Football Confederation for several years, as well as one of the precious seats on FIFA’s almighty Executive Committee, Mohammed bin Hammam had the contacts to pull it all off.
THE FORTUNE HUNTER
Out of chaos comes creativity.
-Many young people were unemployed, worried, and scared because of the civil war, says Shatrudhan Shah.
He is a proud practitioner of an increasingly controversial profession in Nepal. Shatrudhan is a recruiting agent.
Poor Nepalese began looking for work abroad long before anyone began thinking of hosting a World Cup in Qatar. Still, figures from the Nepalese government shows that the number of workers has increased after the tiny emirate was awarded the World Cup.
In 2008, Shatrudhan Shah had been working for five years as a recruiter in the provinces of Dhanusha, Mahottari, and Siraha, in the very southern portion of Nepal near India. Though still only in his mid-twenties, Shatrudhan was already becoming an affluent young man with his own large network of other recruiters. Together they traveled through the impoverished villages along the Indian border bearing handwritten contracts selling the dream of a job by the Persian Gulf.
Now he smiles at Dagbladet over a bowl of cornflakes with steaming hot milk in the breakfast room at one of the better hotels in Janakpur. On one hand gleams a watch of pure gold. With the other he takes frequent, brief, calls on a brand new Samsung smartphone. One time he turns the phone around to show us who is calling. The screen on the smartphone shows the image of one of the province’s most powerful men.
- It began with Qatar in 2003, Shah says.
- Then came Dubai, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, and Bahrain. In Nepal it was hard to get a job in the public sector, and there wasn’t much manufacturing or private business. It’s very demanding to be a farmer—it’s a ton of work but not much money. So I started writing up contacts and traveling around the villages to help people get jobs abroad. We encouraged them to go abroad, of course, but many of them didn’t take much asking.
Shah helped the local farmers get passports and a bus ticket to Kathmandu. A recruiting firm there had the official contact—and the contract—with the employer.
- We took 5,000 rupees per person, and then the agent in Kathmandu took maybe twenty to thirty thousand, Shah recalls.
Altogether that amounts to around 2,000 Norwegian kroner—which by itself doesn’t sound like an exorbitant price for a new chance in life. But in an area so poor that a night in a hotel still costs less than four Euros and you can get a meal in a restaurant for one Euro or so—that was an enormous sum. Most of the farmers had to sell their land or take out a loan to finance the expense. And the interest rates were, and still are, sky-high.
- Local loan sharks charge up to 35 percent interest, Shah confirms.
The salary which made the Nepalese farmers sell their croplands and go abroad, was approximately 800 Qatari riyal – 200 Euros – a month. Shatrudhan Shah insists that he never conned people. But was it common in the industry otherwise?
- The visa was free, but the recruiters usually duped the workers and told them it cost money anyway. People were illiterate and couldn’t read the handwritten contracts they were given, Shah says.
- In the beginning, 60 to 70 percent of all the contracts were fraudulent or deceptive. A lot of people were likely pledged something other than what awaited them. For example, a lot of people were probably promised higher wages in that initial handwritten contract they signed in the village than the reality once they received the proper contract in Kathmandu or Qatar.
At the same time, on Fifth Avenue in New York, Christmas shoppers hurried to get the final gifts in place. From the 49th floor in the Trump Tower, a bearded, jovial man could watch the shoppers from the comfort of his own home.
Chuck Blazer, as the man was called, could also see how 298 500 dollars finally appeared on his bank account.
The money originated from South Africa. Blazer, a member of FIFA’s Executive Committee and the most powerful man in «soccer», had voted for the country’s bid to host the 2010 World Cup. At last he could finally relax and feel the joy of Christmas fill his apartment, accompanied by his clowder of cats and a talking parrot. He did now know how that very payment would affect FIFA’s future.
A SUMMER OF HOPE
As the new year began, things were looking up for the poor farmer Karma Djwaja Waiba, and his wife Jamuni, in the village of Raingunj, in the south of Nepal. Their son Aman turned five that year. With a child fast approaching school age, Karma had decided to fund his son’s education by working in Qatar.
- He was very happy before he left, Jamuni Waiba tells Dagbladet.
Now Jamuni is the focal point of the village, as she sits surrounded by friends and relatives outside the family home on the crest of a hill not far from the border with India. Aman – now 11 – sits obediently by his mother’s side. Jamuni only has to raise her voice once – when a rather tipsy villager falls over on the grass, as he tries to welcome us by kissing our feet.
- It was a big opportunity, Jamuni says of her husband’s dream of Qatar.
Karma got in touch with one of the many local agents doing recruiting outreach in the villages in Nepal’s Dhanusha and Mahottari provinces. The agents in turn put him in touch with a recruiting firm in Kathmandu, which found him a job in a big Saudi-owned construction company in Qatar’s capital city, Doha. It was a golden opportunity for the head of the poor family.
- He hoped things would improve for the family. We dreamed of a proper house, a solid house, says Jamuni Waiba.
Karma Djwaja Waiba left for Qatar on September 23, 2009.
Indu Kumari Ray was 18 year old when she gave birth to her second child. As his sister before him, little Kisan was also healthy. But with another child it became even harder for the family to put enough food on the table.
- They had a patch of farmland the size of a ping pong table, a relative told Dagbladet in the shade of the clay hut where Indu now lives.
- That was it. And it wasn’t much, to be honest.
Indu herself sits on the floor in the clay hut, in silence, staring straight ahead.
A SHAMAN’S JOURNEY
The mature man with face paint and flapping, loose-fitting clothes did indeed cause a stir in the work camp outside Doha. Karma Djwaja Waiba and thousands of other Nepalese laborers endured workdays that were far too long, under the merciless desert heat, with food and water in too short supply. In the winter of 2010 a genuine Nepalese healer had traveled all the way from their mountainous homeland to help his fellow countrymen who were working themselves sick.
- The workers were exhausted, says Jamuni Waiba, sitting on her front stoop.
- The shaman had come to drive out evil spirits.
She had received regular reports about her husband’s cut-throat workdays. Jamuni couldn’t afford her own cell phone but gladly walked 40 minutes each way to reach a phone she could use to get a sign of life from Qatar. A couple of times a week, Karma called his wife and son from the camp where the foreign workers were housed and shuttled in and out of the city by bus early in the morning and late at night.
- He asked how we were here. He also said it was very hard work, but they were doing fine. He worked high above the ground, up on a scaffold, Jamuni says.
- Did he have safety equipment?
- They had nothing, I think. I heard later on they started using helmets out there. He didn’t have that. But he said the work was OK. And he was able to send some money home.
Jamuni nods at the house behind her, and gives a tiny smile. The family home is a big point of pride for her extended family. Their days in clay huts are over. Now the family has a solid, two-story house made of wood.
- His wages paid for half the house, Jamuni Waiba says, sitting on her stoop, pondering, tousling Aman’s hair.
In October 2010, as Karma Djwaja Waiba saw his first year in Qatar come to an end, there was the first case of World Cup votes being for sale. Two members of FIFA’s Executive Committee had both been fooled by undercover reporters. Despite the two men’s vehement protests, Reynald Temarii of Tahiti, and Amos Adamu of Nigeria, were both kicked out of FIFA. According to FIFA’s Ethics Committee, Temarii received 305,640 euros from Mohammed bin Hammam to cover his legal fees.
AN ABSURD SITUATION
One month later, Jamuni Waiba received a worrying message from the recruiting company that had helped Karma get his job in Qatar: «Your husband is critically ill». That morning she ran to the village phone faster than she had ever run before. Winded, she called her husband’s number.
He did not reply.
- We called, called, called—all day and all night, says Jamuni Waiba.
- But we never got an answer. We had a suspicion. And it became stronger each time we didn’t manage to get ahold of him. Every time he didn’t answer the phone, our hope sank, she says.
- And our belief that he was dead became stronger.
Jamuni had talked to her husband the evening before. He had been at work, and everything was fine. Now that conversation felt like a very long time ago. All day and night, the family kept trying to call Karma in Qatar. Finally someone answered – but it was the police, who had confiscated Karma’s phone. But not even they could say for sure what had happened to Jamuni Waiba’s husband. It wasn’t until other villagers who themselves had worked in Qatar called their own contacts there, that Jamuni and her family got any information.
- They talked to Karma’s coworkers in Qatar. The coworkers said he was dead, Jamuni says.
- The family asked me not to cry—many people from here had died in Qatar. But I couldn’t help it. I cried and cried.
As is normal when a spouse dies, Jamuni wanted answers. But her hunt for facts only led to even more questions.
- Finally we heard from his employer. They said he had died in his sleep. But eye witnesses, his friends, the people who worked with him, said he fell to his death, Jamuni says.
From the scaffold. Most likely without any safeguards.
- They said he fell from high up, seven or eight floors up. His employer insisted he had died in his sleep, Jamuni claims.
- What was that like for you?
- It was hard. Unbelievably hard. It was a completely absurd situation.
Dagbladet has contacted Karma’s employer several times, asking for documentation and their version of what happened when Karma died. The company has not given any response. Jamuni says she went to the recruiting company in Kathmandu to inquire about the compensation she believed she was entitled to. Her husband had traveled to Qatar to work. Now he was dead. It should be a simple matter, in Jamuni’s opinion. But the recruiting company said no.
- They said they had experienced Indians coming and demanding compensation for made-up deaths. So they didn’t want to pay out. They suspected we had made up that he was dead.
- How did you feel?
- I got so angry. We just screamed and yelled at them, unloaded our every emotion on them. We tried to talk sense with them too, but they were adamant: they were not going to pay us anything, despite our loss.
Ultimately Jamuni received 25,000 rupees—230 Euros—to cover her husband’s funeral. Karma’s clothes and luggage, was sent by mail. But the cell phone, the one she called and called, hoping for one last sign of life, has never come home.
THE BODY ARRIVED
The FIFA fanfare rang out in the congress hall in Zürich. In the hall, Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, his wife, and retinue leaped up in frenzied cheers. Russia had already won the bidding for the 2018 World Cup – whereupon Vladimir Putin had praised both FIFA and its president, Sepp Blatter.
But it wasn’t until the second vote of the day that a communal shiver really ran down every spine in the hall in Zürich. It was almost as if Sepp Blatter were apologizing as he declared in his Swiss accent with an uncharacteristic stutter: «The winner of the two … twenty-two [sic] world cup is … Qataaar», half pronouncing the year and drawing out the «a».
When the Qatari delegation came up onto the stage to thank Blatter and give their tribute speech, Blatter mostly looked a little uncomfortable.
On the other side of the Atlantic the FBI had come across Chuck Blazer’s name while investigating another case. What the Bureau found out about the country’s foremost «soccer» official would stun the world of football like nothing else had done before.
Then Karma’s body arrived from Qatar. One day too late. The day before, Jamuni had been rejected once and for all by the recruitment agency in Kathmandu.
-The recruitment agency said they did not want anything to do with us. I had been so angry, Jamuni says.
She pauses and draws her breath.
-Even though he remembers very little about his father, it was a huge blow to him that his father died. It made an impression on him to see everyone crying.
Jamuni bends down to give her only child a hug.
Having been instrumental in bringing the World Cup to Qatar, Mohammed bin Hammam had now decided to challenge Sepp Blatter for the FIFA presidency. In May 2011 FIFA Vice President Jack Warner helped him arrange an electoral meeting in Trinidad. Where, according to the FBI, the delegates were offered bribes in its purest form: Envelopes, crammed full of money, 40,000 dollars in cash. One of the delegates did not like this at all. The story ended up in the British press. A few weeks later both Warner and bin Hammam had been thrown out of FIFA. Jack Warner’s words when he was notified that someone had blown the whistle are reproduced in the FBI’s indictment:
- There are some people here who think they are more pious than thou. If you’re pious, open a church, friends. Our business is our business.
On May 20, the same day as Warner and bin Hammam held the infamous meeting at the Hyatt Regency hotel in Trinidad, the British parliament was presented with evidence that votes for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar had had been bought and sold.
THE RUMOR FLIES
- I was told that they were planning this big event in Qatar, says the recruiter, Shatrudhan Shah, over corn flakes back at the Janakpur hotel.
For him, the Qatar World Cup would be a stroke of luck.
- For several years there had been a steady increase in demand from Qatar. But there have definitely been quite a few more people who’ve gone there after they were awarded the World Cup.
Shah started out empty-handed, with a winning smile and a stack of handwritten contract. Now he’s built up a network that makes him one of the most influential recruiters in the entire Dhanusha area. He has a good 20 agents who work under him and pay him a percentage of their income.
- I have 15 men in Dhanusha and seven in Siraha province, says Shah, who describes himself as a «senior agent».
- A friend of mine started a recruiting agency in Kathmandu along with a businessman.
Shah claims that this company alone is now in touch with eighty local agents here in Terai, the narrow, tropical strip of farmland along the border with India.
- Have you ever exaggerated a little to lure people to Qatar?
- No, he says, shaking his head vehemently.
- But there has been some trickery, sometimes quite exorbitant. When people complained that they were receiving the wrong salary, they were crippled for life. There have been quite extreme working conditions. I’ve been called because workers have hung themselves.
By November 2011 the FBI had become interested in FIFA – for real. They found their perfect witness among cats and parrots on the 49th floor of Trump Tower.
Chuck Blazer was heading out for dinner, heading down Fifth Avenue on his Segway, when he was stopped by two stone-faced men. One was from the FBI, the other from the IRS. Blazer was presented with evidence both of his own multimillion dollar tax evasion and a credit card debt of 29 million dollars.
Chuck Blazer was skeptical at first. Then he accepted their offer – and a custom built key ring with a built in microphone. While the FBI was working with Chuck Blazer, the Swiss police began their own investigation – into the awarding of the FIFA World Cups in 2018 and 2022 to Russia and Qatar.
Little Ravi cried when she was born.
Indu Kumari Ray, herself barely an adult, was now the mother of three small children.
Kriti was a wonderful big sister, Indu says; she began taking care of her little siblings early, searching their hair for the tiny insects that live in the clay in the village, playing with them from when they were very small. But Indu and her husband started to feel like they had to do something — anything — to try to ensure the family a brighter future.
The controversies were piling for Qatar 2022: Wouldn’t it be far too hot to play top-level football in the middle of the desert? How would they care for the health of the footballers taking part in the tournament? Would the tournament have to be moved to the winter? This year it was finally decided that the 2022 World Cup will begin place in November. And even more important – for some – how would Qatar’s religious laws cope with football fans demanding to have a beer or ten before and after the matches?
Eventually another subject was brought to the public’s attention: who is it really that are building the whole thing?
CHASING A DREAM
When 19-year-old Raj Kumar Ray got off the plane at Doha’s impressive airport, he had no idea what was in store.
All he knew was that big things were afoot in Qatar, and the wealthy oil nation had an urgent need for manpower. He was going to be an assistant painter for a big Qatari construction company that was working on a large luxury hotel for the World Cup in 2022. It was Raj’s first trip, so he took the job he could find. It was hard work and low status, but the 19-year-old hoped to work his way up in the hierarchy later.
Now Raj Kumar Ray is 21 years old. He is back in his parents’ clay house in the village of Salempur at the southern edge of Nepal. He sits in the shade of a little assembly hall in the center of the village. Where the villagers regularly hold meetings when there are important things to discuss—and two water buffalos and a small herd of lively young goats resides, in exchange for promising not to divulge village secrets to outsiders.
Raj is holding a crutch in his hand.
After only a few days on Qatari soil, the 19-year-old had already smelled trouble burning in the desert.
- We were building a luxury hotel that was going to be used in 2022, he told Dagbladet.
- The local agents here in the village offered me a monthly salary of 800 riyal [1,800 Norwegian kroner] plus 200 riyal for food, he says.
- When I arrived in Qatar, the employer informed me that I would make 600 a month plus food. But by the time I got to work, the amount had been reduced again. Now I should receive a salary of 520 riyal, plus the same 200 riyals for food, he says.
That wasn’t the only problem. It’s easier to argue for a decent salary if you are working legally and have your paperwork in order. And Raj claims that was not the case:
- In order to work I had to have a Qatari ID card. But I never got it. I asked and asked my employer when it was going to be ready. But was just asked to work anyway, the 21-year-old says.
Almost the entire village has gathered to hear Raj tell the story and add their remarks to the foreign press about how the then 19-year-old village boy was treated in Qatar.
- I was working illegally, and I didn’t like that at all. But they forced me. I mean, I couldn’t travel back home either. What was I supposed to do?
The villagers are furious.
THE MAN WHO DID NOT KNOW
Kishun Das Kathbaniya was skeptical at first. He was a grown man, 40 years old, father of two sons and three daughters. It was a big decision to move abroad. But his little brother had been in Qatar for work before, so had several buddies from the villages around Dhanusha where his family lived.
Kishun weighed the pros and cons, but finally he made a decision. According to his father, Bechan Das Kathbaniya, Kishun was strong and used to hard labor. He saw this as an opportunity to get his family a real place to live—a brick house. The clay hut they were living in now was useless during monsoon season. Then the rain came in through the roof and turned the floor into a mud puddle. Besides, the family had already had to endure a financial hit the year before when his eldest daughter got married at 15. Kishun had had to sell his land to pay for the wedding. If the family hadn’t been cleaned out before, they were just scraping by now.
It wasn’t hard to get in touch with the people who could help him get a job; recruiters were constantly knocking around the village. One of these agents got Kishun a job as an asphalt worker for a big Qatari construction company. Kishun knew very little about what he would actually be doing, or who he would be working for. He didn’t know that both the company and senior employees, in adverts and on LinkedIn, brags of projects for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. He did not know that his employer would refuse to respond, when a human rights group asked them about the conditions for the company’s foreign workers in Qatar. Dagbladet has contacted the company asking about Kishun’s case. The company has not responded.
Kishun went to one of the local loan sharks to get money for a passport, travel papers, and the airplane ticket that would take him to Qatar. Once there, he told his wife back home in Nepal that the work was hard, but OK. But while Raj Kumar Ray was experiencing his nightmare up on the scaffolding at the site of the future World Cup hotel, and Chuck Blazer had become an informant for the FBI, Kishun Das Kathbaniya also wound up in trouble.
Kishun’s father, Bechan, looks gloomy. He says that, as agreed, Kishun worked at a construction site as an asphalt worker.
- After 2,5 months on the job, he injured his hand in a work accident. Then the heavy physical work became very demanding. He informed the boss and then he was moved into a job as a cleaner, Kishun’s father Bechan Das Kathbaniya said.
He sits in the shade outside the family home and tries to collect his thoughts.
- Kishun was doing fine there, too—for a while. But after a few months, in July of last year, he had trouble. That summer things went south with some of his colleagues, Bechan said, almost sobbing.
- There was trouble between him and some colleagues from Bangladesh. He took a beating and was really roughed up at the work camp. The police ended up having to keep watch while they slept, the father says.
Kishun wasn’t quite the same after this.
- My son was a workaholic, he worked like crazy, always put his back into it. When the local recruiter here asked him what kind of work he wanted to do, he said, ‘Anything at all. I just want to work and earn money.’ That’s all he wanted. He was matter-of-fact, calm, hard working. He was no troublemaker.
Into the light
Raj's skinny arms ached from his new, hard hours in the desert heat, toiling away with buckets of paint, scaffolding pieces, and equipment.
It was February 2014. After two and half months of grueling labor — still without an ID card, according to himself — the 19-year-old was standing up on the scaffold yet again, sweating, all the way up at the top floor of the fashionable hotel he was building, which was going to be ready for Qatar’s big party in 2022. Raj was supposed to get some equipment from the roof. He climbed onto a ladder on the scaffold, so that he could reach.
Then the ladder fell.
Then Raj fell.
Then came the pain.
- The ladder landed on me, my hip broke, Raj says.
Dagbladet has received no replies when trying to contact Raj’s employer. Raj himself says he was stuck in bed for four months. Four months, he says, without any proper supervision, during which the bone in his hip had plenty of time to grow together wrong. Several of the villagers who surround us nod or shake their fists.
- Did you have any safety equipment?
- The company wouldn’t help since I didn’t have an ID card, but it wasn’t my fault that I didn’t have an ID card. It was theirs. They were the ones who asked me to work anyway, he says in despair.
- I was told that I might as well go home. When I realized that they didn’t care, I made the choice to go. It wasn’t until then, May 12 of last year, that I saw a doctor, in India. He explained I would never be completely healthy again. The company treated me rudely, irresponsibly, and ruthlessly, the 21-year-old says.
Now Raj’s father arrives. His eyes are red with rage.
Even with a big Jeep, Dagbladet ended up stuck in an unstable marshy area on our way out to meet Raj Kumar Ray. During the monsoon season, the village is completely isolated. That means it’s rather difficult to earn a living when you can’t even walk properly. The doctor in India had informed Raj that he would have to count on taking painkillers for at least two years in order to function relatively normally.
- It becomes terribly expensive in the long run, Raj says.
- And I don’t have any money at all.
The 21-year-old now hobbles around with his cane.
- I may be able to stop using the cane eventually, but I’ll never be able to walk normally. I have steel implanted in my hip. It’ll come out after ten years, but I will always limp, Raj says.
- And out here, physical labor is what matters. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to work again.
Raj Kumar Ray will not be watching the 2022 World Cup on TV.
-My dream is ruined. I can’t think about there being a World Cup there or other big events. Everyone who has anything to do with this should try to see to it that the most minor instructions are followed, and that that those of us who have to work there can be treated with a modicum of decency. In such a rich country that should be possible, says Raj Kumar Ray.
- I’m still young, but my life is ruined. Qatar is so rich that this shouldn’t be necessary.
The Sunday Times front page story «The FIFA files» went worldwide before the sun was even properly up:
- The filthy-rich businessman Mohammed bin Hammam, who at that time was the head of the Asian Football Confederation, AFC, reportedly paid five million dollars, just over 30 million Norwegian kroner, to gain support for the World Cup in Qatar.
- Bin Hammam reportedly transferred up to 200,000 dollars, 1.2 million Norwegian kroner, to accounts controlled by the heads of 30 African soccer associations.
- Bin Hammam also transferred more than $1.6m directly into bank accounts controlled by Jack Warner, the ExCo member for Trinidad and Tobago, including $450,000 before the vote.
Neither Indu Kumari Ray nor her husband had any idea of the World Cup revelations that was by now heavily discussed in the West. When the «FIFA Files» broke in the Sunday Times on June 1, 2014, Manoj Ray had decided how to support his family. That fall he had one of the local recruiting agents start helping him have a passport made, and he packed the few possessions he had. He looked at Kriti, Kisan, and Ravi – they were happy together, they were the apples of his and Indu’s eye.
He wanted to go to Qatar for their sake.
THE MAN WHO RAN AWAY
Kari Mahara (48) made the same decision.
We are sitting in the principal’s office at the local school, the whole village flocked around as the rumor spread that Kari was going to meet a journalist. This was the only quiet place the father of six could find to tell his story. With a glass of lukewarm Sprite in his hand, he begins to talk.
- I was going to work on a big bridge project by the port in Doha. It was being built to increase capacity before 2022, Kari tells Dagbladet.
Kari says that he shelled out 7,000 rupees – 65 Euros – to the local agent for a passport. Then he took the bus to Kathmandu, where for a slightly larger fee he was able to sign a two-year contract with a Chinese construction company. Kari boarded the plane to Doha.
- What was it like working there, we ask.
- It was OK. It was totally OK, Kari replies.
- They paid what we had agreed, 800 riyals a month. But something happens to him while he’s talking. He starts sweating and looks around.
- How long were your workdays?
- I worked eight hours every day, he responds, clearly nervous … about something.
Suddenly he gets up and marches right out of the principal’s office, out the school door. Kari Mahara is gone.
LOST IN TRANSLATION
One of Kari Mahara’s friends run after him to find out what made the 48-year-old react like he did. A few minutes later, the man is back:
- Kari started to suspect that you were agents from the company he worked for in Qatar, the man explained.
- He was afraid you were spying.
When your interviewee is illiterate, it doesn’t help much to hand out a business card with Dagbladet’s name and logo on it. This episode illustrated not only that we did not appear as trustworthy as we thought we did, but also how hopeless the system with the handwritten labor contracts and middle men is working for recruiting a Nepalese workforce for Qatar. Four in ten adult Nepalese are illiterate according to 2013 numbers from UNICEF. The fine print at the bottom of the job contract is one thing – Kari Mahara and many besides him can’t even read the headline.
In the end the 48-year-old comes jogging back, in a better mood this time.
Then he describes how long the «eight-hour days» actually were.
- We were picked up at 4:00 a.m. at the work camp. Then we were at work by five and worked until we had a lunch break later in the day. The lunch break was long, two to three hours, but we weren’t allowed to leave work so we had to stay at the construction site, Kari Mahara says.
- Then we worked until 6:00 p.m. before we were driven home to the work camp. We were usually back there at 7:00 p.m., but sometimes we worked longer. The first hour of overtime was unpaid, he explains.
- In the work camp we lived six men to a little room. Once a week we were allowed to leave the camp. We could go where we wanted then. There were no restrictions that day. But otherwise during the week we were not allowed to move outside of work and the camp where we lived.
CHAOS AND GRIEF
Back with the Kathbaniya family, outside the clay hut in Dhanusha, Bechan Das Kathbaniya tells us that his son called home a few hours before he died.
- He asked if we had enough food, if there was enough rice for the children to have enough to eat, Bechan says.
Kishun’s wife is in Kathmandu, trying to arrange compensation. His father is sitting in the shade and bursts into tears as he had at around one in the afternoon on February 21. Then one of Kishun’s coworkers who had family in a neighboring village called his relatives back home.
A member of that family knocked on Bechan Das Kathbaniya’s door. He said in a gentle voice that Kishun, his oldest son, was dead. He had been found lifeless, without a pulse and not breathing in his bed in the work camp that night.
- When I found out my son was dead, it was chaos, Bechan says.
- Chaos and grief. I’m poor. My son is dead. He died while he was working as hard as he could to build up that country and everything they’re planning. So has my youngest son, he has toiled and labored there for three stints. Kishun was matter-of-fact, calm, hard working. He deserved something better. I am left with just emptiness.
It was the coworker from the neighboring village who saw to it that the body was sent home to Nepal.
- We didn’t hear from the employer to begin with. Finally, we heard from them that he had drunk himself to death. We talked to him by phone the night before and he was completely sober then. Besides, he almost never drank. Here at home I can only remember five or six times when he drank alcohol at all, he says.
- I think the employer’s explanation was an outright lie. If he drank himself to death, then they wouldn’t have to pay us compensation. I think that’s what this is about. That says something about how they treat their workers, who slave away so they will finish their projects and so Qatar will realize its projects, the father says.
- For myself I dreamt of a brick house. Our clay house is almost uninhabitable now every time the monsoon season comes. The water comes in through the roof. That dream sputtered. Qatar took it from me.
On May 27 Attorney General of Switzerland, Michael Lauber, announced that the bidding for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups were under investigation.
By then officers in plain clothes, by order of the FBI, had struck against the Baur au Lac hotel in Zürich. 14 of football’s biggest leader were indicted on racketeering, conspiracy and corruption charges. The alleged bribery and kickback scheme involving 150 million USD was said to have spanned a 24-year period. Swiss police raided FIFA’s offices in a hillside overlooking downtown Zürich. Swiss banks, Lauber said, had reported suspicious activity in several bank accounts that FIFA had been involved in.
The Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy in Qatar says in an email to Dagbladet that the Qatar 2022 Bid Committee is cooperating with the investigations into the bidding and FIFA, and that the bid committee conducted itself to the highest ethical standards throughout the entire bidding process for the 2018/2022 FIFA World Cups, ensuring that FIFA’s rules and regulations were strictly adhered to.
- Any allegations that suggest otherwise are patently false, the statement says.
For Manoj Ray this was too little, too late.
-My life is empty, says Indu Kumari Ray, the widow, back in the clay hut by the border to India.
We can only just barely hear her voice when she says:
- It feels completely hopeless. It’s unbelievably hard. He was a loving and good father. He cared about how we were doing.
For long spells, she is completely apathetic. A friend of her husband said that he had suddenly started shaking, there in his bed in the work camp in the middle of May, just a couple of weeks before the FBI and Swiss police made their big move in Zürich. He was taken to the hospital, but died quickly. The cause of death was listed as a heart attack.
- He’d never had heart problems before, Indu says, her eyes still turned to the dirt floor.
Manoj had called home the night before.
- I didn’t suspect anything when he called. He said he was OK. It had been a hard day at work, but it always was, says Indu.
- He was used to working at least 12 hours a day. He was healthy and strong, and never sick as long as he lived here. He had other Nepalese coworkers as well, and one of them was the one who notified us that he was dead.
A friend of the family who is sitting next to hear and listening says that the family was completely paralyzed by Manoj’s death: no one at for more than a week, Indu lay in her bed as if frozen, and was unconscious when neighbors came and forced some food into her after a week.
- I can’t understand it, Indu says.
Mixed with her unfathomable grief, she is also furious at Manoj’s employer. She hasn’t heard anything, she says, hasn’t received any kind of help. Dagbladet has not been able to get in touch with Manoj’s employer in Qatar.
- The company hasn’t paid any compensation. We received 3000 dollars from the authorities, but it was spent bringing the body home and arranging the funeral. We’re entitled to much more, Indu claims.
- We live from hand to mouth. We just barely have enough to keep going. I just feel abandoned.
The family’s little patch of land was sold to finance the trip to Qatar. Manoj Ray was going to provide for them with the money he earned by building the ring road in Doha. Indu is 23 now, illiterate and a mother of three, and lives at home with her already impoverished parents. The three children joke and play around us, but she doesn’t manage to smile with them.
- I don’t want the children to have to go through the same thing. I told them that Papa isn’t coming back, but they don’t understand. Kriti knows. The two little ones think he’s still alive. But the pain of not having a father will be with them forever. That pain will only grow as they get older.
On May 29, Sepp Blatter was reelected as the president of FIFA.
- I want to leave my successors a strong FIFA, he said in his thank you speech:
- We must do this together. I’m not perfect. No one is. I like my job. Thank you so much. Let’s go, FIFA. Then, three days later, Blatter’s second in command – the FIFA general secretary Jérôme Valcke, was exposed as the middle-man in that darned transaction from South Africa 2010 to Jack Warner and Chuck Blazer. The payment with which this story began, and which now goes by the name of 6G in FBI’s indictment.
On June 2, 2015 – three days into his fifth term as FIFA president, Sepp Blatter announced his resignation.
POORER THAN BEFORE
Kari Mahara couldn’t care less. On that same day he was thrown out of Qatar.
He’s now back in Nepal, against his will. His employer in Qatar had contractual problems. The Nepali father of six was sent back home, his visa cancelled.
- The whole thing feels unfair. I went to work so that my children could have a better life, Kari tells Dagbladet.
- Will you watch the World Cup on TV?
- The World Cup can just keep going for all I care. I can’t even bear to think about it, about parties and a bunch of people celebrating. As I sit here in my home against my will, poorer now than before I went.
The day after that Sepp Blatter – who is now facing a criminal investigation in Switzerland – received a standing ovation when he met his employees at FIFA’s headquarters in Zürich.
Then the FBI released Chuck Blazer’s eye-opening testimony.
And we’re back where this story began.
FIFA: - WE DO EVERYTHING WE CAN
Dagbladet has several times contacted the employers of the workers mentioned in this story, asking for medical reports, accident reports and other documentation about the incidents, as well as for their version of the story. None of the companies have responded. In Manoj Ray’s case Dagbladet has been unable to find contact details for his employer. Dagbladet has also asked the labor ministry in Qatar for all official documentation about the cases, without receiving any reply.
The Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy insists that worker’s welfare is a top priority in Qatar.
- Contrary to your assertions, workers welfare is an issue that has been a top priority for our committee from the outset of our planning, and for our government on a longer-term basis, the statement says.
- Our committee has developed a set of stringent principles and standards for workers welfare, which are incorporated into all of our contracts. These standards provide comprehensive protection of worker’s rights for the entire cycle of employment, encompassing recruitment, work environment, accommodation and repatriation, the statement says.
- The principles we have committed to demand that every individual contributing to the delivery of Supreme Committee projects are treated with respect and dignity, in accordance with universally accepted principles of human rights. We are engaged with NGOs including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International and welcome constructive dialogue. We have conducted our relations in a spirit of openness and transparency and will continue to do so. The conditions of our workers who work on world cup projects, meet international best practice when it comes to health and safety. We regularly offer journalists access to our sites and workers’ accommodation, so it is regrettable Dagbladet flew from Norway to Nepal without taking the time to visit Qatar or requesting to see our sites, the statement says.
The statement points out that none of the deaths have taken place at the stadiums which will be used in the tournament. - In almost ten million man hours worked across six stadiums, there have been zero fatalities or major injuries on our stadiums. Not all construction projects in Qatar relate to the World Cup. To claim otherwise would be disingenuous and misleading to the readers of Dagbladet. We can categorically state that the examples which you present did not take place on World Cup construction sites, the statement says. - We are steadfast in our belief that the 2022 FIFA World Cup can act as a catalyst toward accelerating the positive social progress and commitments made by our government concerning worker welfare and labour reforms. With seven years to go we are focused only on delivering the first World Cup to the Middle East.
Qatar 2022 says they are cooperating with the ongoing investigations, and insists that - contrary to evidence published by The Sunday Times and in the book “The Ugly Game”, Mr. Bin Hammam never worked for Qatar.
- Each bid had the task of convincing the 22 FIFA Executive Committee members that their bid was the strongest and most worthy of their vote. While Mr. Bin Hammam is Qatari, he was not part of our bid team and therefore we had to convince him of the merits of our bid in the same manner as we did with any other FIFA Executive Committee member, the statement says.
Chuck Blazer’s lawyer, Mary Mulligan, tells Dagbladet that she does not wish to comment on the case, while FIFA won’t answer specific questions about Qatar 2022:
- FIFA is cooperating with the authorities and won’t comment on an ongoing investigation, a FIFA spokesman tells Dagbladet about the Qatar investigation.
- We’re doing everything we can to improve the organization, and will continue to strengthen FIFA’s system of governance and compliance. The work on this improves day by day, and our goal now is to achieve the highest possible standards.
FIFA emphasizes that they take the workers’ situation in Qatar seriously.
- FIFA has stated publically and brought up at the highest levels in Qatar that it is crucial that the workers in Qatar have good working conditions. For a long time we have arranged conversations between shareholders in Qatar and international organizations who are concerned with these matters.
Reynard Temarii, Fred Lunn, and attorneys for Mohammed bin Hammam and Jack Warner have not responded to Dagbladet’s inquiries.