Practice What You Preach!

Practice What You Preach!                                        25 November 2022

The 2,867 real estate and properties transactions totalled US$ 4.09 billion, during the week ending 25 November 2022. The sum of transactions was 313 plots, sold for US$ 428 million, and 1,936 apartments and villas, selling for US$ 1.22 billion. The top two land transactions were both for land in Hadaeq Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid – US$ 12 million and US$ 7 million. Al Hebiah Fifth recorded the most transactions, with 110 sales worth US$ 96 million, followed by Jabal Ali First, with seventy-three sales transactions, worth US$ 64 million, and Al Yufrah 2, with twenty-three sales transactions, worth US$ 8 million. The top three transfers for apartments and villas were for an apartment, valued at US$ 14 million, in Jumeirah Second, followed by two transactions in Palm Jumeirah for US$ 11 million and US$ 9 million. The mortgaged properties for the week reached US$ 2.30 billion, with the highest being for land in Al Warsan First, mortgaged for US$ 817 million. 145 properties were granted between first-degree relatives worth US$ 143 million.

The increasing number of doomsayers in the market who have been saying, for several months now, that Dubai property prices will go down, will be disappointed that, according to Property Monitor, sales prices rose 1.77% last month. The average property values in Dubai now stand at US$ 294 per sq ft – a level not seen since the time of the last market upswing in November 2013. The volume of sales transactions remains at par with last month, dipping 0.7% to 8.6k registrations, with residential transactions accounting for 92% (7.9k sales transactions) of the total, followed by hotel apartments (3.4%), office (1.9%), and land sales (1.7%). YTD, there have been 77.2k transactions registered (89.2% of which were residential) equal to 126% of the entire annual transaction volume of 2021. At this rate, total 2022 transactions could easily top 92k, which would be second best year in the annals of Dubai’s property history. YTD, new off-plan development project launches total almost 37k, as a further 3.4k being added in October, expected to raise US$ 28.34 billion in cumulative gross sales value. There is no doubt that, to date, the local market has remained aloof from many of the problems being experienced in other countries and has benefited by the dirham being pegged to the greenback and several progressive initiatives, introduced by the Dubai government. Investors should continue to be confident in a market that is set to move higher for at least the next six months, but there could be some realignment in prices towards the end of 2023, when the doomsayers will be shouting that they were right.

Arada, Sharjah’s largest property developer with projects valued at over US$ 9.0 billion, and with property sold valued at US$ 2.34 billion, has unveiled its first ever project in Dubai with the launch of Jouri Hills at Jumeirah Golf Estates; the announcement was made during Cityscape Dubai. The luxury villa project will include 294 high-end villas, ranging from three B/R townhouses to six-bedroom mansions. All detached villas come with swimming pools as standard, while the community’s most luxurious homes will encompass 14k sq ft of space, spread across four floors and encompassing underground parking, basements with a flexible entertainment or fitness floor plans and a landscaped ‘English courtyard’ for outdoor entertainment. The development will have its own community park and will see facilities, including cycling and running tracks, swimming pools and a fitness centre. Construction will start next year, with the first homes scheduled to be handed over by Q2 2025. It was also reported that the Sharjah-based developer had acquired the last remaining beachfront land plot on The Palm Jumeirah. The launch for the concept design – an ultra-luxury mixed-use project – is ongoing, with the sales launch slated for Q1 2023.

Inspire Home Contracting, currently developing villas in Dubai South and a tower on Dubai Islands, is planning a community on the Oman Island at Dubai’s The World Islands. It has already received preliminary approval from master developer Nakheel and is in the process of applying for a building permit. On completion, the US$ 20 million development will comprise 167 villas, (all with one B/R), with a massive swimming pool in the middle of the island, a clubhouse that will have a spa, five-star restaurant, cinema and ballroom. All the villas, some of which will be floating, will be manufactured in South Korea and will take two years to complete, during which time, infrastructure work will be carried out on the island. The villas will be guaranteed for fifty years, with prices starting at US$ 1.63 million.

The development on the World Islands has been ramping up, with Anantara expected to launch a hotel on the South American section before the end of the year and Kleindienst’s Heart of Europe project  is in its final phases to completion; indeed, the first of its Floating Seahorse villas  were handed over in 2020, with its chairman, Josef Kleindienst,  noting that there has already been an appreciation in the price of its floating villas..

Sobha Realty launched two new megaprojects – Sobha 1 and Hartland 2 – valued at US$ 6.53 billion and located adjacent to the Sobha Hartland master development in MBR City. The developer expects both projects, with 10k apartments covering a 220-acre site, to be finalised by 2030 at the latest, with full-scale construction starting next year; financing will be via a mix of debt and equity.

Meanwhile, Azizi Developments has bought a fifteen million sq ft plot of land from Dubai South, an aviation and logistics urban master developer, to build a mixed-use development, valued at US$ 3.27 billion, taking advantage of a booming Dubai property market to expand its portfolio of assets. Part of the development will be 24 million square feet of gross floor area, within the Dubai South development, a 145 sq km city that includes Al Maktoum International Airport.  Full details of the development have yet to be released but what is known is that Azizi, will also be in charge of constructing the project’s infrastructure and road network.

Savills latest Prime Office Costs analysis points to Dubai having one of the largest increases in net effective cost to occupiers of prime office space in Q3 as fit-out costs in key global office markets have climbed 10% over the past twelve months. In Q3, Dubai’s net effective cost to occupiers of prime office space was 3.0% higher on the quarter at US$ 108.. Demand for office space has been concentrated across prime properties, leading to limited availability and an increase in rents. The study also noted that the best returns were seen in Dublin, London City, Dubai and Berlin – up 7.0%, 5.0%, 3.0% and 3.0% respectively. Some analysts forecast the cost of leasing office space in the emirate rising by double-digit numbers on the year, as strong demand continues to outstrip supply significantly. By the end of September, Dubai’s office market had a portfolio of 9.1 million sq mt of gross leasable area, with supply nudging 53k sq mt in Q4.

The latest IMF report indicates that the UAE’s economy is set to grow by more than 6.0% this year which would be the highest rate since the 6.9% expansion of 2011; the Q1 economy was 8.4% higher, as “fiscal and external surpluses have increased further, benefitting from the higher oil prices, as well as the removal of the temporary Covid crisis-related fiscal support to businesses and households as the pandemic has gradually waned. 2023 growth is expected at 4.0%. H1 foreign trade exceeded US$ 272 billion (AED 1 trillion), compared with US$ 229 billion for the same period before the pandemic. The IMF noted that this major improvement was helped by a rebound in tourism, construction and activity related to the Expo 2020 Dubai. Tourism revenue, in H1, topped US$ 5.2 billion, with the number of hotel guests at over twelve million, climbing 42%, compared with the same period before the pandemic.

More than 60% of the exhibitors at this year’s Cityscape Dubai, which opened on Monday, were from outside the UAE, including from Tunisia, Germany, Georgia, Bali, Canada and the UK. These developers, along with most of the major local players such as Azizi, Sobha Realty, Damac and Arada, all hope to cash in on the booming local property sector. By the end of Q3, prices were 9% higher on the year, with average residential prices up to 25% higher on the year. Another factor pushing property prices higher was the 18% rise in high-net-worth individuals, moving to the emirate, in the first six months of this year; it is estimated that Dubai’s growing millionaire and billionaire population now amounts to almost 68k and thirteen respectively.

Last week, Dubai Harbour welcomed its first cruise ship, the AIDAcosma, officially starting the emirate’s 2022-23 cruise season. With 5.5k passengers on board its maiden voyage from Germany, this is the start of an expected influx of more than 300k to land at the Dubai Harbour, over the next seven months. Dubai Harbour will pave the way for green cruising by becoming the first to host a brand-new LNG powered cruise ship, with usage of LNG cutting emissions by 30%. Shamal Holding is the owning-company and curator of Dubai Harbour and is the driving force behind making it an exceptional seafront district. Dubai Harbour Cruise Terminal comprises two terminal buildings, designed to process over 3.3k passengers per hour, on a pier stretch of over 910 mt and can accommodate a complete passenger turnaround of two mega cruise ships simultaneously.

Despite a recent downward trend in the price of Brent, with a decline to around the US$ 90 a barrel level, caused by several factors, including a slowing global economy and a potential drop in demand from China, YTD prices are still 12.0% higher. Allied with this, business activity in the UAE’s non-oil private sector economy continued to improve last month, with the S&P Global PMI at a healthy 56.6, as new business and output climbed along with a rise in demand and employment. To date, the country has not seen the double-digit inflation rates, compared to many other countries, with the UAE Central Bank looking at a relatively low 5.6% figure for 2022, which are expected to soften into the new year. It is highly likely that if higher oil prices continue in 2023 – along with the healthy fiscal buffers – the country will remain a haven for investors and many expats.

The IMF also noted that the economy will also benefit from several other initiatives which will help to underpin growth and fiscal consolidation including:

  • expected introduction of corporate tax
  • gradual phasing out of business fee structures
  • reforms under the UAE 2050 Strategy, with a focus on diversification of the economy
  • ongoing structural reforms, such as those to support private sector employment and female labour force participation
  • increase in trade and foreign investment
  • harnessing the benefits of technology and education

Following the onset of Covid in early 2020, the Insurance Authority introduced a 50% discount on MV premiums, replacing the previous up to 30% discount, depending on the driver’s history; insurance companies were permitted to offer a 10% discount for drivers with no claims for a year, 20% on a two-year policy and 30% for three years and above in case of no claim history. Another move in 2020 saw the merger of the Insurance Authority with the Central Bank in order to boost the insurance industry’s role in the country’s economy. Now it seems that insurers are returning to the 30% norm, and most of them would have these “new” rates in place by the end of the month, which could see insurance premiums coming in 15%-20% higher, as the premium collection is 40% lower to maintain the loss ratios at a profitable position. It also seems that health insurance premiums will move up to 10% higher due to factors such as the ageing population and healthcare inflation.

The FTA has notified eligible taxpayers that the deadline, to apply for the re-determination of administrative penalties on taxes, is 31 December 2022. However, the authorities have confirmed that non-compliance to this deadline could be extended subject to three conditions:

  • the administrative penalty must be imposed under Cabinet Decision No. (40) of 2017 before 28 June 2021, and remain outstanding
  • the tax registrant needs to have settled all due Payable Tax by 31 December 2021
  • the tax registrant must have paid 30% of the total unsettled administrative penalties due until 28 June 2021 no later than 31 December 2022.

In line with all tax payments, the authority has cautioned that bank transfers can take up to three working days to process the payment.

Qashio has raised US$ 10 million in a seed round, which consisted of both equity and non-equity financing, and backed by various international and regional investors, including One Way Ventures, Mitaa, Cadorna Ventures, Sanabil 500 Mena, Nuwa Capital, Iliad Partners and Phoenix Investments. Money raised will be pointed at expanding into Saudi Arabia, the Arab world’s biggest economy. The UAE-based FinTech start-up, only founded last year by Armin Moradi and Jonathan Lau, issues charge cards to automate the management of a company’s expenses, by linking them to the FinTech’s software. Transactions made, using Qashio’s cards, are automatically captured by its software and interfaced to the company’s accounting system, cutting down the time companies spend on reconciling expenses and receipts. The latest MasterCard report estimates an almost tripling of the FinTech global market from last year’s US$ 112.5 billion to US$ 332.5 billion by 2028. Currently there are some 470 FinTech unicorns, (start-ups with a US$ 1 billion+ valuation), and it is expected that the MENA region will have forty such entities by 2030.

This week, Dubai Islamic Bank sold US$ 750 million of its debut five-year sustainable Islamic bond, sold at 155 bps over US Treasuries; this was tightened by 20 bps to 155 bps after demand topped US$ 1.6 billion. Because of the pandemic of economic volatility, and surging interest rates, international bond sales have plummeted this year. Late last week, there were two bank-related sales – Dubai’s Mashreq raising US$ 500 million in Tier 2 bonds, and a US$ 700 million bond sale by Banque Saudi Fransi.

Marked occupancy improvements in both its Al Thuraya Tower 1, (recently hitting a 50% rate following the completion of a major refurbishment in March 2022), and Burj Daman, topping an 80% occupancy rate, ENBD REIT announced its 30 September net asset value had risen to US$ 172 million ($0.69 per share), compared to US$ 166 million in Q2 and US$ 164 million, a year earlier. Its rental income nudged 0.7% higher to US$ 15 million, whilst the Weighted Average Unexpired Lease Term (WAULT) stands at 4.13 years for the portfolio, and the Loan-to-Value (LTV) ratio remains stable at 54%.  Operating expenses came in 2.2% higher, with fund expenses and finance costs being 3.7% and 5.5% higher respectively. The property value was 1.3% higher, on the quarter, to US$ 362 million, as its portfolio occupancy jumped 9% to 84%, on the year, mainly attributable to strong growth seen in the Dubai property market. The Board recommended a US$ 4.5 million dividend, equating to US$ 0.018 per share.

DEWA has announced that at its second general assembly meeting will be held physically and virtually on Monday, 12 December, at which time the meeting will most probably approve a special one-time cash dividend of US$ 552 million to its shareholders; if this goes through the dividend record date has been set for 22 December. In the past, its MD and CEO, Saeed Mohammed Al Tayer, had indicated that the utility intended to pay its shareholders a total dividend of US$ 2.24 billion in 2022. Last month, it paid US$ 844 million in dividends for H1, with the same amount being paid as an H2 dividend payment in April 2023.

On Monday, the DFM launched its new general index culminating the successful accomplishment of a comprehensive transformation of its indices’ methodology, with S&P Dow Jones Indices acting as the calculation agent of the indices. The eight new sectors include Communication Services, Consumer Staples, Materials, Real Estate, Utilities, Financials, Industrials, and Consumer Discretionary. The various key features of the new methodology of DFM indices include:

  • amending the current 20% cap of the threshold of a DFM index individual constituent to 10% percent of the index weightage
  • index calculation based on actual free float adjusted market capitalisation
  • amending the current semi-annual review to a quarterly rebalancing of the index
  • a DFM independent index committee overseeing current and future methodology changes
  • the alignment of DFM’s sectors with the Global Industry Classification Standard (GICS) that are tracked by institutional clients

The DFM opened on Monday, 21 November, 55 points (1.6%) lower on the previous week, lost a further 47 points (1.4%). to close on 3,305 by Friday 25 November. Emaar Properties, US$ 0.06 shy the previous week, shed US$ 0.07 to close the week on US$ 1.61. DEWA, Emirates NBD, DIB and DFM started the previous week on US$ 0.65, US$ 3.58, US$ 1.59, and US$ 0.43 and closed on US$ 0.65, US$ 3.60, US$ 1.57 and US$ 0.42. On 25 November, trading was at 170 million shares, with a value of US$ 70 million, compared to 185 million shares, with a value of US$ 61 million, on 18 November 2022.

By Friday, 25 November 2022, Brent, US$ 11.02 (2.7%) lower the previous fortnight, was down US$ 3.75 (11.2%) to close on US$ 87.62.  Gold, US$ 22 (1.2%) lower the previous week, gained US$ 3 (0.2%), to close on 1,755 by Friday 25 November.

Following the windfall extension on energy companies by the Sunak government, (from 25% to 35%), Shell is reviewing plans to invest US$ 29.7 billion in UK projects, over the next decade, indicating that it would now look at each of its projects on a “case-by-case basis”. It is forecast that the tax extension will fill the Exchequer’s coffers by an extra US$ 16.6 billion. It is estimated that this tax takes the total levy paid on oil and gas profits to 75%, among the highest in the world. Obviously, the more a company is taxed will see the amount available for investment being diminished, as Shell confirms that it does not expect to pay any extra tax this year because of its heavy investment in the North Sea. It is sometimes forgotten that many of the energy giants only make a small portion of their profits in the UK and that they can deduct most investments in new oil and gas projects from any tax levied. Its profits over Q2 and Q3 came in at US$ 11.4 billion and US$ 9.5 billion, resulting from the soaring energy prices which rose to as high as US$ 120 per barrel.

Guess, the US clothing brand has been advertising its latest collection, “with graffiti by Banksy” – an arrangement that had not been authorised by the UK street and graffiti artist, whose actual identity remains unknown. He noted that “they’ve helped themselves to my artwork without asking, how can it be wrong for you to do the same to their clothes?”, and posted a photo of the London Regent Street, and suggested shoplifters should visit the branch which was subsequently closed. It seems that the company’s defence is that its collection was created in collaboration with Brandalised, which licenses designs by graffiti artists and apparently had the rights to commercialise and use Banksy’s artwork on goods.

Penguin Random House has scrapped a US$ 2.2 billion planned takeover of rival Simon & Schuster, after a US court blocked the deal, saying it could “substantially” weaken competition in the industry. Penguin’s parent company Bertelsmann said Paramount Global, the owner of Simon & Schuster, decided not to appeal the ruling. The world’s largest book publisher commented that “we believe the judge’s ruling is wrong” but we have to accept Paramount’s decision not to move forward.” The judge in the case opined that the US Justice Department had shown the deal could substantially lessen competition “in the market for the US publishing rights to anticipated top-selling books”. If the deal had gone through, Penguin and Simon & Schuster combined would control nearly half the market for publishing rights of blockbuster books. Penguin Random House, (established in 2013 by the merger of two major publishers from the UK and the US), is obligated to pay a US$ 200 million termination fee to Paramount.

In what is thought to be first time that Amazon has had an international strike day, following Make Amazon Pay initiative calling for a global strike today, Black Friday, it appears that more than thirty countries, including France, Germany and the US, could be directly impacted on one of the online retailer’s biggest revenue days. It is reported that Germany’s Verdi union expect planned stoppages in at least ten fulfilment centres and is canvassing Amazon to recognise collective bargaining agreements for the retail and mail order trade sector.

By the end of last week, it was estimated that Twitter could have lost at least 33% of its payroll numbers of 7.5k, mainly driven by the sweeping changes introduced by Elon Musk, who had acquired the company for US$ 44 billion. The latest layoffs resulted in some core teams without any staff, at a time when the new owner is considering closing one of the company’s main data centres in the US, which would see the workforce down to about 2.5k. Things started badly for Elon Musk even before he took over the running of Twitter in late October. Throughout the months-long saga, that led to his purchase of the company, he did not put forward any clear strategy on how to run it, thus alienating many employees. The first of his staff emails sent to his new employees threatened dissenters and suggested he would fire anyone who was not a “hardcore” worker, whilst banning remote working. By early November, he had fired senior executives and began introducing rigid changes to the company’s operating structure, saying it needed to boost its revenue streams because it was losing US$ 4 million a day. Matters seem to have gone from bad to worse as his first month in charge, comes to a close.

There are reports that Mitsubishi Chemical UK may make a decision to close down its Teesside production plan that would see 238 made redundant. Three of the major drivers are “rapidly escalating” gas prices, a downturn in the European economy caused by inflation and weaker demand. It seems that the company has already started consulting with its workers and a decision could be made as early as January. Its production of methacrylates, which are used in acrylic products and require large quantities of gas, initially stopped in January as part of a planned overhaul and had remained halted since September because of negative economic factors.

Earlier in the week, it was reported that the bankrupt cryptocurrency exchange FTX owes its fifty largest creditors almost US$ 3.1bn (GBP 2.6 billion), including US$ 1.45 billion to its ten unnamed major creditors. It also seems that more than one million people and businesses could be owed money following its collapse; the betting is that any pay-out to creditors will be minimal. On Saturday, the firm indicated that it had launched a review of its global assets and was preparing for the sale or reorganisation of some businesses. The new chief executive, John Ray, who took over the reins from the Sam Bankman-Fried, commented that he had never “seen such a complete failure of corporate controls” and he criticised FTX’s founder for a “complete absence of trustworthy financial information”. The firm recently filed for US bankruptcy court protection, and has fired three senior executives, including co-founder Gary Wang, engineering director Nishad Singh and Caroline Ellison, who ran the firm’s trading arm Alameda Research.

It is reported that cryptocurrency custodian company BitGo has already managed to recover US$ 740 million from the FTX debacle but experts say it may be many years before customers have any chance of getting any of their money back, whilst others may never recover the funds.

YTD, cryptocurrencies have lost more than US$ 1.4 billion in value, with Bitcoin’s Tuesday trading at US$15.5k – its lowest level in two years. The world’s second-largest cryptocurrency Ethereum also shed more than 13% in the last week to reach US$ 1.1k on Tuesday, with  Coinbase’s shares closing more than 8% lower on Monday, its lowest point since it came into the market in April 2021.There are several factors impacting this sector, the latest being the collapse of FTX, the world’s third-largest crypto exchange, earlier in the month and the Terra Luna saga. The match that led to FTX imploding earlier in the month was lit by Binance’s Chang Peng Zhao (better known as CZ), saying it would sell its FTT tokens – the coin of FTX; earlier, the crypto exchange had signed a letter of intent to buy FTX but then reversed its decision, saying FTX’s issues were “beyond our control”. 

It is reported that cryptocurrency custodian company BitGo has already managed to recover US$ 740 million from the FTX debacle but experts say it may be many years before customers have any chance of getting any of their money back, whilst others may never recover the funds.

Credit Suisse expects Q4 losses of up to US$ 1.5 billion, on the back of further outflows of wealth management funds, as client confidence worsens, with continued withdrawals of customer assets, as market conditions continue to soften. The troubled lender also commented that net asset outflows were about 6.0% of the assets, equating to US$ 89.4 billion in outflows, under management at the end of Q3. It is changing its main focus towards private banking and less on its investment bank sector. On Wednesday, shareholders approved a US$ 4.26 billion capital raise and agreed to 9k staff cuts by 2025.

There was no surprise to see that the OECD has forecast that the UK economy will suffer a bigger blow from the global energy crisis than other leading nations, (with a 0.4% contraction next year, followed by a small 0.2% rise in 2024), whilst growth in the US and the eurozone will be weak, with Germany being the only other major economy expected to shrink – by 0.3%.  This figure contrasts with UK’s Office for Budget Responsibility’s prediction of the UK posting a 1.4% contraction in 2023 and a 1.3% growth a year later. The world body forecasts a “significant growth slowdown” globally next year but sees global growth at 2.2%, attributable to the strength of emerging economies, whilst the Ukraine war has resulted in European countries bearing the brunt of the impact on business, trade and the spike in energy prices. When that happens, the BoE can do little else but to move rates higher, which in turn will lead to higher costs of servicing debt. The OECD noted that UK inflation rate, which hit a 41-year high of 11.1% last month, should peak next month but will remain above 9% in early 2023, halving to 4.5% by the end of the year – still more than double the bank’s fantasy 2.0% target.

It expects UK interest rates to raise by 50% to 4.5%, from its current 3.0% level, by April, whilst unemployment is expected to rise to 5.0% by the end of 2024. The Office for National Statistics estimated that with the first tranche of a US$ 475 (GBP 400) subsidy, along with the lower US$ 2.97k, (GBP 2.5k) energy price cap, has cost the government an estimated US$ 4.0 billion; this extra spend pushed up the cost of government borrowing by 28.4% to US$ 16.04 billion, compared to a year earlier. In the seven months of the UK government fiscal year, public borrowing at – US$ 100.3 billion – is 20.5% lower than the same period in 2021.

As the first week of the World Cup comes to an end, there seems to be more news about everything except the accrual football. Scoring on own goal even before the first match started Gianni Infantino, born and bred in Switzerland, to Italian parents, told the world’s press in an hour-long ramble that he felt like a migrant worker. The FIFA supremo raked in US$ 3.2 million in 2019 – not bad for a migrant worker! Using words very similar to those used by disgraced New York Governor Andrew Cuomo in January 2017, he made an awkward attempt to compare his personal backstory to disenfranchised populations across the globe. He opened proceedings with the words “I am Qatari” and it is reported that he has a rented house in the country and two of his children go to school there; initially it seemed that FIFA continually denied that this was the case and confirmed that Infantino spends half of his working time in Doha and that the house in the Qatari capital allows him to spend a lot of time with his family. However, it is alleged that Infantino is rarely present in the FIFA’s Zurich headquarters.

Infantino said he was “dismayed” when he was implicated in the FIFA corruption scandal in documents released in the 2016 Panama Papers which showed that UEFA undertook deals with indicted figures where previously they had denied any relationship as well as confirming that he had never personally dealt with the parties involved. In the same year, he was suspected to have broken the FIFA code of ethics and was interviewed by the investigatory chamber of the body’s Ethics Commission, (FIFA being judge and jury).   The enquiry focussed on three matters which were  “several flights taken by Mr Infantino during the first months of his presidency, human resources matters related to hiring processes in the president’s office, and Mr Infantino’s refusal to sign the contract specifying his employment relationship with FIFA”. Despite a document being leaked indicating illegitimate spending of funds by FIFA, the matter concerning expenses and governance was not investigated, although they revealed that Infantino had billed FIFA for personal expenses such as US$ 10.6k for mattresses at his home, US$ 8.3k, for a stepper exercise machine, and US$ 1.3k for a tuxedo, as well as billing FIFA for an external driver for his family and advisors while he was away. He was also accused of   potential conflicts of interest receiving special treatment by the 2018 and 2022 World Cup hosts who had organised private jets for Infantino and his staff to visit the two countries.

Two years ago, he faced further allegations accused of having a secret meeting, (and at least two more), with the Swiss Attorney General Michael Lauber, at a time when the Swiss government was actively investigating FIFA for irregularities in the awarding of the World Cup to Qatar. The Attorney-General had opened official proceedings against four members of the organising committee for the 2006 World Cup in Germany, including disputed payments and vote-buying for that country to host the event. Among the more than twenty other football matters discussed involved TV rights deals signed by the then UEFA’s chief legal officer and current FIFA president. In June 2019, the Federal Criminal Court criticised Lauber’s conduct in the football proceedings, and especially his secret meetings with Infantino, which Lauber had not recorded and described as informal. It seems that when it became known that there had been a third meeting with Infantino, which Lauber had kept secret, Infantino himself and the Valais senior public prosecutor Rinaldo Arnold, who had arranged the meeting, also claimed that they had no memory of the meeting. In September 2019, Lauber was not reselected to his position by the United Federal Assembly, which noted that Lauber had grossly negligently violated his official duties by meeting FIFA President Infantino. So much for transparency, democracy and governance!

Let’s hope Infantino’s actions after the World Cup speak louder than the words, he uttered in his pre-opening welcome address and that the US$ 6 billion expected to be raised from this World Cup does not end up in FIFA’s treasury and that they do something to make good the crass words with which he addressed the footballing world. He had the gall to forget that he was a leading member of the footballing bureaucracy in the latter days of Sepp Blatter’s reign and for even suggesting that criticism of Qatar is “just hypocrisy”, and that western countries were in no position to criticise the host nation, which in itself could not be more hypocritical. A week earlier, this is the same person who had sent a circular to all concerned that they should just focus on football. At least the FIFA supremo should Practice What You Preach!

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