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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 25 June 2018

Swiss prosecutors grill PSG’s Al Khelaifi over World Cup bribery claims

The allegations against the Qatari football and beIN TV executive relate to media rights for the 2026 and 2030 competitions

President of Paris Saint-Germain soccer club, Nasser Al-Khelaifi, was questioned Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2017, by Swiss investigators who allege he bribed a top FIFA official in a World Cup broadcasting rights deal. AP Photo/Claude Paris
President of Paris Saint-Germain soccer club, Nasser Al-Khelaifi, was questioned Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2017, by Swiss investigators who allege he bribed a top FIFA official in a World Cup broadcasting rights deal. AP Photo/Claude Paris

Swiss investigators on Wednesday began grilling Nasser Al Khelaifi, the chief executive of Qatari broadcaster beIN, over allegations that he bribed a top Fifa official to obtain World Cup media rights.

Mr Al Khelafi, who is also the president of French football club Paris Saint-Germain, met with Switzerland's federal prosecutors two weeks after they revealed criminal proceedings against him.

The Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland (OAG) said on October 12 that it suspected that Fifa's disgraced former secretary general Jerome Valcke had accepted "undue advantages" from Mr Al Khelaifi in connection with the award of media rights for the 2026 and 2030 competitions.

The contract covers the rights to show those tournaments on television in the Middle East and North Africa region.

Valcke, who had been Sepp Blatter’s right-hand man, is also under investigation.

Both men deny wrongdoing and neither has been charged.

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Mr Al Khelaifi was due to be interviewed at the Bern office of Switzerland’s attorney general, Michael Lauber. The interview was expected to last several hours “due to the translation issues and the many questions we have", said Andre Marty, the spokesman for the Swiss attorney general's office. "The world of football needs to be patient as for the results of this first interrogation," Marty said outside the federal building.

Mr Al Khelaifi was not seen arriving for questioning, which began at 9.45am local time.

As CEO of Qatar’s beIN Media Group - formerly Al Jazeera Sports - Mr Al Khelaifi secured TV rights for four World Cups, including the 2022 tournament in Qatar, across the Middle East and North Africa. But the probe, which includes accusations of corruption, bribery, criminal mismanagement and forgery of a document, relates specifically to the 2026-2030 rights deal.

Mr Al Khelaifi and Valcke have been under investigation since March over the allegations. But the OAG only went public with the case on October 12.

Key to the allegation is a luxury Sardinian villa that, it is alleged, Mr Al Khelaifi allowed Valcke to use. The villa, set in lush grounds in Porto Cervo, has an estimated value of seven million euros and is owned by an international real estate agency.

Italian police raided the villa two weeks ago. Properties were also searched on October 12 in Greece, Italy, Spain and France, including beIN's offices in Paris, while Valcke was questioned in Switzerland.

Valcke is already serving a 10-year ban from all football-related activity after he was found guilty by Fifa's former ethics judge Hans-Joachim Eckert of misconduct over the sale of World Cup tickets, abuse of travel expenses, attempting to sell TV rights below their market value and destruction of evidence.

He has appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

The 53-year-old French national has told the French sports newspaper L'Equipe that he "received nothing from Nasser".

Meanwhile, the beIN Media Group, which is headquartered in Doha, has insisted that its World Cup rights deals were "advantageous for FIFA", rejecting any suggestion that it got favourable treatment.

It is the latest in a string of corruption accusations to hit the football world. Fifa is still trying to overhaul its image after the events of 2015, when several dozen football officials were arrested on corruption-related charges at the governing body's annual conference.

They are also the latest allegations to target Qatar.

The Gulf state has found itself routinely accused of corruption since controversially winning the right to host the 2022 World Cup, charges it has always denied.

The 43-year-old Mr Al Khelaifi is a close friend of Qatar's emir Sheikh Tamim.

An increasingly prominent figure in sports and media, 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 for Brazil striker Neymar from Barcelona for 222 million euros.

He risks an interim ban from football duty by the Fifa ethics committee while investigations continue.

PSG are not publicly implicated in the Swiss investigation.