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Zahir Belounis to sue Qatari clubs

Zahir Belounis has criticised FIFA president Sepp Blatter for doing nothing to help him leave Qatar, and confirmed that he intends to sue two of his former clubs for fraud, extortion of money and inhuman working conditions.

The player and his lawyer, Frank Berton, said at a press conference on Tuesday they intend to file lawsuits against the Military Sport Association president Gamaan Al-Hamad and Al-Jaish president Sheikh Joaan bin Hamad Al-Thani – the brother of the Emir of Qatar.

“The lawsuits will be filed with the Paris prosecutor’s office,” Berton said. “We hope that the Paris prosecutor will open an investigation.”

Belounis played for the Military Sport Association from 2007 to 2010 before joining Al-Jaish.

Under Qatar’s kafala sponsorship system, workers need permission from their employers to leave the country, but after a dispute over wages, Belounis was denied an exit visa, thus stranding him in the Gulf state indefinitely.

“A few years ago, I would have never thought that I could be the prisoner of a sponsor,” Belounis said. “They destroy you if things turn bad. It’s a big fight to be heard and leave the country because the sponsor does whatever he wants.”

Belounis returned to France after representations were made by the international trade union movement and the footballers union, FIFPro.

Belounis said he was last paid in June 2011.

Stranded in Qatar with his wife and their two daughters, Belounis sank into depression and contemplated suicide.

“They hurt me, my wife and my two daughters,” Belounis said. “I can’t forgive that.”

His demand for an exit visa was first denied in February. Belounis said he was allowed to leave the country only because he accepted signing a letter of dismissal backdated to February that deprived him of his wages from that month to the end of his contract in June 2015.

One notable figure who conspicuously failed to lift a finger to help Belounis, was FIFA president Sepp Blatter.

“I’m angry with all the people who could have helped me and who looked at this case from afar,” Belounis said.

“When Blatter arrived in Qatar, I was telling myself that he could meet me at least. But no, there are more important matters than Zahir Belounis. That collateral damage means nothing,” Belounis said.

“Of course, I’m angry. Especially since he met people who can get me out of the country within 24 hours. And he did nothing.”

FIFA said it was not involved in the case because Belounis did not pursue his claim through its judicial body, the dispute resolution chamber.

But, the suspicion is, that FIFA’s reluctance to intervene on behalf of Belounis arose not from his failure to pursue his claim correctly, but from their desire not to antagonise the 2022 World Cup hosts.

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