By Andrew Warshaw
October 13 – In a stunning twist to their anti-corruption football probe, Swiss federal prosecutors have opened a criminal case against the Qatari boss of Paris St Germain, Nasser Al-Khelaifi, for suspected bribery linked to World Cup broadcasting rights.
The proceedings are part of their ongoing investigation into former FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke who ironically appeared before the Court of Arbitration for Sport this week to appeal against his 10-year ban from the game.
Swiss prosecutors allege Valcke received “undue advantages” from a businessman who was not identified – and from Al-Khelaifi. The latest turn of events relates to the sale of World Cup TV rights to beIN Sports, of which Al-Khelaifi is chief executive.
Last year, the Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland (OAG) said it was investigating Valcke for “various acts of criminal mismanagement”. In a new statement, the OAG said the latest proceedings involving Al-Khelaifi had been “opened on the basis” of its findings.
The OAG statement disclosed it was “suspected that Jerome Valcke accepted undue advantages from a businessman in the sports rights sector in connection with the award of media rights for certain countries at the FIFA World Cups in 2018, 2022, 2026 and 2030 and from Nasser Al-Khelaifi in connection with the award of media rights for certain countries at the FIFA World Cups in 2026 and 2030.”
The bombshell development is reportedly being conducted in partnership with authorities in France, Greece, Italy and Spain, and was opened in March this year, the OAG added. It said Valcke was interviewed as a suspect on Thursday after attending his CAS appeal but had not been detained.
Valcke is serving his 10-year ban after being found guilty 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.
As part of the Swiss OAG’s criminal probe, the Paris offices of beIN Sports were raided on Thursday, the French financial prosecutor’s office confirming that two of its representatives, along with other French officials dealing with anti-corruption and tax avoidance affairs, had carried out the search.
Properties were also searched in Greece, Italy, and Spain, the Swiss federal prosecution office said. It cited cooperation from a European Union criminal investigation agency. “Multiple premises were searched, assets were seized and interviews were conducted as a result of this joint operation,” the EU body known as Eurojust said in a statement.
beIN Sports, formerly Al-Jazeera Sports, is one of the most powerful broadcasters in world football, owning broadcast rights across the Middle East and North Africa including for Champions League and European Championship matches.
In a statement, beIN Media Group said: “Following a request by the OAG of Switzerland, the beIN Sports offices in Boulogne-Billancourt were searched this morning. The employees on site co-operated with the authorities until the end of the search.
“beiN Media Group refutes all allegations by OAG. The company will fully co-operate with the authorities and is confident as to the future developments of this investigation.”
Al-Khaleifi’s profile has been particularly prominent in recent weeks following PSG’s summer spending spree capped by the world record signing of Neymar. UEFA has opened its own case into possible violation of financial fair play with a verdict expected before the end of the season.
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