Swiss verdict in Khelaifi case set for next month

The beIN Media chairman accused of influence peddling.
Friday 25/09/2020
Chairman of Qatar-based media group BeIN Sports, Nasser Al-Khelaifi leaves the Swiss Federal Criminal Court (Bundesstrafgericht) in Bellinzona, Switzerland, September 14. (REUTERS)
Chairman of Qatar-based media group BeIN Sports, Nasser Al-Khelaifi leaves the Swiss Federal Criminal Court (Bundesstrafgericht) in Bellinzona, Switzerland, September 14. (REUTERS)

BELLINZONA, Switzerland – A nine-day trial of Qatari football executive Nasser al-Khelaifi and former FIFA official Jerome Valcke concluded on Thursday, with Switzerland’s federal criminal court saying a verdict will be announced October 30.

Khelaifi, the president of Paris Saint-Germain who is also chairman of Qatar-owned broadcaster beIN Media, is accused of giving Valcke the use of a luxury villa on an Italian island in connection with the award of FIFA World Cup media rights in Italy, Greece and MENA.

“Mr. Khelaïfi never acquired or financed the Villa Bianca,” Gregoire Mangeat, one of the leader’s lawyers told Le Monde.

“With documents supporting this, our client has disputed the allegations. There has never been a corruptive pact. Legal debates also made it clear that the entire process of awarding media rights to BeIN was flawless. FIFA never cancelled the contract or sought damages,” Mangeat added.

Prosecutors asked the court to give Khelaifi a 28-month sentence, with all but four months suspended, for inciting Valcke as FIFA’s then-secretary general to commit “aggravated criminal mismanagement.”

Prosecutors also asked the court to give Valcke a three years sentence if convicted.

The court has heard beIN Media Group was awarded TV rights without other tenders being sought for two World Cups.

Niclas Ericson, FIFA’s former TV rights director, told the football corruption trial that broadcasting rights for 2026 and 2030 Middle East and North Africa cups were not put to tender before being awarded to beIN Media Group.

Khelaifi denies providing Valcke use of a villa in Sardinia around the time in 2014 that FIFA sealed a $480 million World Cup deal with Doha-based broadcaster BeIN Media Group he also led.

The deal for the 2026 and 2030 tournaments was a record for the Middle East and North Africa.

In February this year, FIFA completely dropped all charges of alleged bribery against Khelaifi after a three year investigation provided no sufficient evidence of wrongdoing.

At the court in Bellinzona yesterday, the three Swiss attorneys for Khelaifi – Marc Bonnant, Gregoire Mangeat and Fanny Margairaz – took turns trying to pick apart the prosecution’s case.

“The complete acquittal of Mr. al-Khelaifi has been demanded today, and emphatically so,” his lawyer in Switzerland, Marc Bonnant, said Thursday in a statement.

Valcke denies charges of mismanagement and — in a separate matter not involving Khelaifi — bribery and falsifying documents.

Those charges relate to Valcke allegedly taking kickbacks totalling $1.48 million linked to World Cup rights in Greece and Italy, which he is accused of booking to his private company as loans.

Prosecutors asked for a three-year sentence, partially suspended, for Valcke and 30 months for Dinos Deris, a marketing executive based in Athens. Deris did not attend the trial, citing health reasons. They deny wrongdoing.

The first completed trial hearing in Switzerland’s investigation of international football comes almost six years after FIFA asked federal prosecutors to look for suspected money laundering in the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bidding contests, won by Russia and Qatar.

Prosecutors have opened at least 25 criminal proceedings, and investigations are ongoing against former FIFA president Sepp Blatter, former UEFA president Michel Platini and Valcke’s former deputy, Markus Kattner.

The October verdict will be the first judgment handed down in Switzerland in the 25 proceedings opened in the past five years involving FIFA.