When England and the United States battled to a 0-0 draw at the World Cup last week, Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes was in the crowd, his tickets, airfare and lodging paid for by the government of Qatar.
It was a lavish perk worth thousands of dollars for the state’s top prosecutor, but the junket does not appear to violate state ethics law, provided it can be connected in some way to an official function, according to two attorneys I spoke with about the trip.
A spokesperson for the attorney general’s office said traveling to the match was not an official state trip.
Reyes’ campaign manager, Alan Crooks, told me that Qatar approached the Attorney General Alliance — a bipartisan organization made up of more than 46 state and territorial attorneys general — in the run-up to the World Cup, looking for advice on how to address concerns of human trafficking and cyber security.
Reyes was one of those who helped, participating in meetings in-person and via Zoom with representatives from Qatar’s government. The attorney general was invited out to attend the soccer tournament to see the results of the work, Crooks said.
Reyes left for Qatar on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, attended the game on Friday, and returned back late Sunday night. With at least 18 hours of travel each way, he wasn’t in the country for long, but did meet with some of the Qatar officials he had worked with before, Crooks said.
The government of Qatar paid for Reyes’ travel and lodging and ticket to the match at Al Bayt Stadium through the AGA, Crooks explained, but said Reyes paid for his wife, Saysha’s, airfare.
How much of what Reyes shared about addressing human trafficking and what actually was put into use in Qatar is an open question. Qatar has been under intense scrutiny for the harsh treatment of foreign workers who toiled in oppressive heat and poor conditions for very low wages to build the stadiums that hosted the World Cup.
Under a system known as kafala, migrant workers are essentially bound to their sponsored employer and are unable to leave for better wages or return home. Qatar did away with the kafala system in 2020, according to the Guardian, a decade after the Middle Eastern country was awarded the World Cup by FIFA.
A 2021 investigation by The Guardian estimated some 6,500 foreign workers died in the 10-year run-up to the World Cup. In an interview with Piers Morgan this week, Hassan al-Thawadi, a Qatari official who has helped organize the World Cup, estimated that between 400 and 500 laborers died while working on construction projects related to the soccer tournament.
“I know it’s a very sensitive and touchy thing. You have to be very careful how you handle that,” Crooks said. “[Reyes] is aware of it and obviously he disagrees with [the treatment of workers]. He’s trying to open up relations with that. And obviously, they were pleased with their interactions with him.”