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corruption

Suspicious Financial Connection Reveals Bahrain’s Deliberate Instigation Against Qatar

A recent investigation has unveiled a suspicious financial connection between Bahrain and controversial French journalists Christian Chesnot and Georges Malbruno, preceding the release of their book Qatar Papers.

The investigation, published by the online platform mediapart and translated by the European Microscope for Middle East Affairs, reveals that Chesnot and Malbruno deposited 29,000 euros into the account of Milan Eržen, the head of the Bahraini cycling team and an advisor to a Bahraini prince, who conflicts with Qatar.

According to the website, the two journalists confirmed that they paid this amount to Eržen in exchange for translating secret documents used in their book, Qatar Papers.

2019 Chesnot and Malbruno published their book Qatar Papers with Michel Lafon publishing house.

Their investigations were based on leaked data that revealed the financing of 140 projects by the emirate, including mosques, Islamic centres, and schools in Europe and France, most of which are overseen by entities close to the Muslim Brotherhood.

It was shown through investigations and documents that the French journalists were encouraged and funded by Qatar’s opponents, notably the United Arab Emirates.

However, the new information indicates that on October 8, 2020, the Michel Lafon publishing house made a financial transfer of 20,000 euros related to the book Qatar Papers to a Bahraini company called 25th Hour Consulting.

Furthermore, on April 4, 2022, the publisher sent an additional amount of 9,403 euros to this company for another book by Chesnot and Malbruno titled “French Decline – Le déclassement français,” bringing the total transfers to 29,403 euros.

The surprising fact is that the owner of 25th Hour Consulting is Milan Eržen, the Slovenian manager of the Bahraini cycling team, who achieved third place in the recent Tour de France and sixth place in individual races thanks to the Spanish cyclist Bilbao.

Eržen serves as an advisor to Prince Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa, one of the sons of the King of Bahrain, and he proposed establishing the cycling team in 2016 and assisting him with managing horse and camel racing.

According to the French newspaper Le Monde, the two individuals’ reputations are not clean as there are suspicions about Eržen’s involvement in the Aderlass case, related to an extensive network suspected of trafficking in blood doping drugs.

The Marseille Public Prosecutor’s Office launched a preliminary investigation into the “acquisition, transport, possession, and import of a prohibited substance for sports use without medical justification,” leading to two raids on the successful Bahrain team, the first in July 2021 and the second in July 2022. Eržen’s home was searched, and he described all the charges as “completely false.”

As for his superior, Prince Nasser Al Khalifa, he manages sports policy in Bahrain in addition to the Royal Guard.

He was involved in the violent repression of peaceful demonstrations that shook the kingdom in 2011, and several non-governmental organizations accused him of personal involvement in the torture that occurred at that time.

However, why did the Michel Lafon publishing house deposit 29,403 euros into Eržen’s Bahraini company? The publisher’s lawyer stated that it was the dues of the authors who proposed transferring the money to 25th Hour Consulting to settle a debt.

She emphasized that “the publishing house has no relationship with 25th Hour Consulting outside the context of financial transfers”. She advised, “Regarding the relationship between the company and the authors, I suggest you question your colleagues.”

Malbruno claimed during a quick call when asked about his connection to the head of the Bahraini cycling team, “We have no relationship with this person. We do not know him. That’s all.”

Afterwards, the journalists provided another answer to our written questions, stating that they paid Eržen for “assistance in translating thousands of secret documents into Arabic, which were part of the Qatar Charity data leak, used as a basis for the book ‘Qatar Papers.'”

Malbruno confirmed they received these documents on a USB drive sent to them by mail through Le Figaro.

The journalists also explained, “We committed to pay for the translation costs by deducting them from the author’s royalties, which will be divided between two books. Therefore, we asked Michel Lafon, our publisher, to transfer the money to this company.”

This explanation is astonishing. The identity of the 25th Hour Consulting institution does not indicate any involvement in translation activities.
The company is registered in Bahrain as being involved in “administrative consulting” and “organizing and promoting sports events,” which perfectly aligns with Eržen’s role in managing those activities on behalf of Prince Nasser Al Khalifa.

Furthermore, the head of the Bahraini cycling team is not considered an expert in translation. He does not speak Arabic or French as his mother tongue and possesses no known translation skills. During interviews with him at the Tour de France, he exclusively responds to French journalists’ questions in English.

Lastly, it is astonishing that Chesnot and Malbruno, both with extensive experience in the Middle East, would present secret documents about Qatar to an advisor of a hostile state, which was besieging Qatar alongside the UAE and Saudi Arabia at the time of payment.

Certainly, numerous French translators in Paris could have offered more neutrality and efficiency than the head of the Bahraini cycling team.

When asked about these points, the journalists responded, “We did not pay any money to obtain these documents.” They also refused to explain why they chose Milan Eržen’s company to translate the Qatari documents, merely stating that it was a “confidential journalistic source” that must be protected.

This justification is surprising, as a translator is not a source, and the code of ethics for French journalists prohibits paying rewards to sources.
Christian Chesnot and Georges Malbruno did not answer when questioned about this discrepancy. Milan Eržen remained silent, refusing to respond under the pretext that his company’s activities are “private and confidential.”

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