BeIN sports chairman indicted in FIFA bribery case

Paris Saint-Germain President Nasser al-Khelaifi was charged with inciting former FIFA Secretary-General Jerome Valcke “to commit aggravated criminal mismanagement.”
Friday 21/02/2020
French former FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valcke (L) and Paris Saint-Germain's Qatari president Nasser Al-Khelaifi (R). (AFP)
Suspicions. French former FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valcke (L) and Paris Saint-Germain's Qatari president Nasser Al-Khelaifi (R). (AFP)

Paris Saint-Germain President Nasser al-Khelaifi was charged by Swiss federal prosecutors in connection with a bribery investigation linked to FIFA and World Cup television rights.

The office of Switzerland’s attorney general filed an indictment charging Khelaifi with inciting former FIFA Secretary-General Jerome Valcke “to commit aggravated criminal mismanagement.”

Valcke, banned by FIFA's ethics committee for 10 years, was charged with accepting bribes, aggravated criminal mismanagement and falsification of documents, the Swiss Attorney General office said in a statement.

Valcke and Khelaifi have both previously denied wrongdoing.

The statement by the Swiss prosecutor said that, from 2013-15, Valcke exploited his FIFA role "to influence the award of media rights" for World Cup and Confederations Cup tournaments "to favour media partners that he preferred."

Valcke received "undue advantages" from two other suspects related to the use of a villa in Sardinia, it said.

Valcke was FIFA secretary-general from 2007-2015 and oversaw the organisation of World Cup tournaments in South Africa in 2010 and Brazil in 2014.

Khelaifi reached an unspecified "amicable agreement" with FIFA regarding the awarding of 2026 and 2030 World Cup rights to Qatari broadcaster BeIN Sports. Khelaifi is head of Doha-based BeIN Sports and a member of the UEFA executive committee. FIFA declined to comment on its confidential deal with Khelaifi.

Khelaifi was indicted for allegedly providing Valcke with use of a luxury villa in Sardinia without paying rent valued at nearly $2 million.

“As I have said vehemently and repeatedly for three years, the charges have not -- and have never had -- any basis whatsoever, either in fact or law,” Khelaifi said in a statement February 20.

Khelaifi was appointed to the UEFA executive committee, representing European football clubs, one year ago despite being implicated in the bribery case. He is an influential board member of the European Club Association, which is seeking to drive reforms in the Champions League favoured by elite clubs, such as French champion Paris Saint-Germain, which is owned by Qatar Sports Investments.

UEFA declined to comment on the possibility that Khelaifi could be suspended before an executive committee meeting March 2.

Khelaifi denied wrongdoing after being questioned by Swiss authorities in October 2017 and again last December in connection with criminal proceedings opened three years ago. He has been implicated in a separate corruption investigation by French prosecutors that is linked to Qatar seeking hosting rights for the track and field world championships. Doha hosted the 2019 edition.

In his statement, Khelaifi said there was a “seemingly relentless agenda to smear my reputation in the media. For that reason, I have requested the relevant Swiss authorities to open a criminal inquiry into the conduct of the investigation."

The investigation in Switzerland began in November 2014 when FIFA, under President Sepp Blatter, filed a criminal complaint about suspected money laundering linked to the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bidding competitions, which were won by Russia and Qatar.

Swiss prosecutors worked with US investigators on connected but separate investigations. They were unsealed in May 2015 with the early morning arrests of football officials at hotels in Zurich two days before Blatter was re-elected FIFA president.

Within days, Blatter announced he would resign. Three months later, Valcke, a long-time right-hand man for Blatter, was suspended from duty for suspected financial wrongdoing and excessive use of private jets. The former TV presenter from France was later banned by FIFA from all duty for 10 years.

“The investigations revealed that Valcke had received undue advantages from both co-accused” and did not report them to FIFA, Swiss prosecutors said February 20.

Valcke was refunded $540,000 from a third party for the down payment on the villa in upscale Porto Cervo, Sardinia. Prosecutors said Khelaifi purchased the villa through a company instead of Valcke.

Valcke also received three payments to his private company, called Sportunited, which were falsely entered into accounts as loans, prosecutors said.

Swiss prosecutors pressed ahead with their case without input from Attorney General Michael Lauber who recused himself from the case last year. Lauber came under pressure for having two meetings in 2016 with FIFA President Gianni Infantino about the case before it emerged they had an undeclared third meeting in 2017.

In the wider Swiss investigation, German officials from the 2006 World Cup organising committee have been charged over irregular payments linked to FIFA.

(With AP, Reuters)