Last updated: 3 December, 2013

Trapped French footballer to sue Qatari royal

French footballer Zahir Belounis, who was forced to stay in Qatar for 17 months because his club refused him an exit visa, plans to sue the brother of Qatar’s ruler, his lawyer said Tuesday.

Belounis had not been able to leave the host nation of the 2022 World Cup due to a pay dispute with his club Al-Jaish, whose chairman Sheikh Joaan Bin Khalifa Bin Ahmad al-Thani is the emir’s brother.

He was only able to return home late last month after obtaining his exit visa, which is usually controlled by employers in the Gulf state under its controversial “kafala”, or sponsorship system.

For that, he says, he had to sign a letter dating back to February announcing his sacking and forego a contract that was due to run until June 2015, thereby losing out on up to 150,000 euros ($200,000).

Belounis’s lawyer Frank Berton said he would file suit in Paris for fraud, working in inhuman conditions and extortion.

Others targeted include Gamaan Al Hamad, the president of Qatar’s Military Sport Association, he said.

The French-Algerian footballer, 33, initially moved to Qatar in 2007 to sign for second division Al-Jaish, and he was even granted Qatari citizenship, enabling him to represent the country in the World Military Cup in Brazil in 2011.

But his situation began to deteriorate in 2012 when Al-Jaish stopped paying his wages, and Belounis decided to launch legal action against the club in February this year.

Belounis said he was “blackmailed” by Al-Jaish after launching the legal action.

Qatar and Saudi Arabia are the only Gulf states that continue to impose an exit visa on foreign employees who want to leave.

Human Rights Watch has denounced the kafala system as abusive.