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Top Tory strategist pitched anti-Qatar campaign to exiled businessman: Report

In exchange for $7m, Lynton Crosby proposed programme to pressure Fifa to drop Qatar as 2022 World Cup host
Australian political strategist Lynton Crosby arrives at Downing Street in 2014 (AFP)

Conservative Party election strategist Lynton Crosby pitched a £5.5m ($7m) lobbying campaign to pressure football world governing body Fifa to drop Qatar as the host of the 2022 World Cup tournament, the Guardian has reported.

Crosby proposed to “expose the truth of the Qatar regime and bring about the termination of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar”, asking for £300,000 ($387,000) a month over 18 months, according to a document seen by the Guardian and Spinwatch.

The Australian spin doctor reportedly made his pitch last April to Khalid al-Hail, an exiled Qatari businessman in his early 30s who organised a Qatari opposition conference in 2017 supported by obscure British royalists and promoted by Bill Clinton's former political strategist.

In the pitch made last April, Crosby says that his London-based lobbying firm, CTF Partners, would set up round-the-clock war rooms around the world to spread negative stories about Qatar, operate fake grassroots news campaigns and lobby influencers.

'Project Ball'

The campaign, dubbed “Project Ball”, would also link the Qatari government’s activities to terrorism.

Crosby's lawyers told The Guardian that the proposed work was never carried out, nor was a contract established with al-Hail.

"It is legitimate for one party to use the services of people/entities such as our clients to put important information into the public domain in an effective manner," the lawyers were quoted as telling the Guardian.

Revelations of Crosby’s proposal came after the New York Times reported earlier this month that a London-based consulting firm with ties to the United Arab Emirates was behind a report raising doubts that Qatar would actually host the tournament.

Cornerstone Global Associates had originally pitched to represent Qatar to bid for the World Cup, but their offer was declined. Cornerstone later wrote a report warning of increasing political risk of the event being held in Qatar which was picked up by the BBC. 

In June 2017, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt broke economic and diplomatic ties with Qatar over allegations Doha supports terrorism, a rift which has continued until now.