Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 27 September 2020

Qatar’s beIN chairman and former Fifa boss go on trial in Swiss corruption case

Former Fifa secretary general is accused of accepting $1m in return for awarding World Cup TV rights

Paris Saint-Germain chief Nasser Al Khelaifi arrives at the Swiss Federal Criminal Court prior to the opening of a corruption trial into the awarding of football broadcasting rights. AFP 
Paris Saint-Germain chief Nasser Al Khelaifi arrives at the Swiss Federal Criminal Court prior to the opening of a corruption trial into the awarding of football broadcasting rights. AFP 

Chairman of Qatar-based beIN Media Group Nasser Al Khelaifi and a former senior Fifa official have gone on trial in Switzerland over the awarding of television rights to future World Cups.

Fifa’s disgraced former secretary general Jerome Valcke appeared in court on Monday accused of accepting more than $1 million (Dh3.67m) in cash in return for favourable awarding of media rights.

Mr Al Khelaifi, who is also president of French champions Paris St Germain (PSG) and sits on the executive committee of European soccer body UEFA, has been charged with inciting Mr Valcke to commit aggravated criminal mismanagement.

It is alleged that the 46-year-old, who is a former Davis Cup tennis player for Qatar, incited Mr Valcke not to tell Fifa about favours he received.

Mr Valcke, 59, who is already banned by Fifa’s ethics committee for 10 years for previous ethics violations, has been charged with accepting bribes, aggravated criminal mismanagement and falsification of documents.

The duo face criminal charges over claims that Mr Valcke exploited his position to influence the awarding of media rights for Italy and Greece for various World Cup and Confederation Cup tournaments from 2018 to 2030.

A broader investigation into alleged bribery connected to the two men over broadcasting rights for the World Cups in 2026 and 2030 and other Fifa events in the Middle East was abandoned.

The Swiss attorney general's office alleges that between 2013 and 2015 Mr Valcke exploited his Fifa role to influence the awarding of media rights for various World Cup and Confederations Cup tournaments "to favour media partners that he preferred".

Mr Valcke also received exclusive use of a villa belonging to Mr Al Khelaifi in Sardinia for 18 months, it said, without having to pay rent estimated at between €900,000 (dh3.9m) and €1.8m (dh7.84m).

The villa, set in lush grounds in Porto Cervo on the northern coast of the idyllic Italian island, has an estimated value of €7m euros (dh30.49m).

Italian police raided it back in 2017 when Swiss authorities announced the probe against the three men on suspicion of “the bribery of private individuals”.

epa08667629 Former Fifa general secretary Jerome Valcke, center, and his lawyers arrive at the Federal Criminal Court in Bellinzona, Switzerland, 14 September 14, 2020. Valcke is accused of qualified disloyalty and incitement, falsification of documents and passive bribery. The Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland opened the proceedings in March 2017. EPA/Francesca Agosta
epa08667629 Former Fifa general secretary Jerome Valcke, center, and his lawyers arrive at the Federal Criminal Court in Bellinzona, Switzerland, 14 September 14, 2020. Valcke is accused of qualified disloyalty and incitement, falsification of documents and passive bribery. The Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland opened the proceedings in March 2017. EPA/Francesca Agosta

Officials also searched properties in Greece, Italy, Spain and France, including beIN’s office in Paris.

Mr Valcke was secretary general of world football's ruling body for eight years until 2015, overseeing the organisation of the World Cup in South Africa in 2010 and Brazil in 2014.

The trial in Switzerland, which is where Fifa is based, is expected to last until September 25 and the three federal judges are due to deliver a verdict by the end of October.

It is the culmination of a long-running investigation mired in setbacks that include dropped charges and the late addition of a new one. They deny all charges.

Mr Al Khelaifi's lawyers have said that the majority of the case does not apply to their client.

Swiss prosecutors have been investigating corruption surrounding Fifa since 2015, when the global soccer body became embroiled in the worst corruption scandal in its history.

The scandal led to its President Sepp Blatter and UEFA President Michel Platini being banned from the sport, while several dozen officials were indicted in the United States on corruption-related charges.

Most of Fifa’s board was replaced after the bribery investigations resulted in early morning raids in high-end hotels near the association headquarters.

As head of Qatar’s beIN Media Group, Mr Khelaifi secured television rights for four World Cups, including the 2022 tournament in Qatar, across the Middle East and North Africa.

Mr Al Khelaifi was appointed to run PSG when it was bought by a Qatar sovereign wealth fund within months of Fifa picking Qatar as a World Cup host in December 2010.

Under his watch, PSG pursued and completed a world record transfer from Barcelona for Brazil striker Neymar for €222 million.

Updated: September 14, 2020 10:00 PM

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