By Andrew Warshaw
October 30 – After a high-profile 10-day trial that gripped world football politics amid persistent conjecture, Paris Saint-Germain president Nasser Al-Khelaifi was acquitted today of aggravated criminal mismanagement regarding the allocation of World Cup TV rights.
Former FIFA number two Jerome Valcke was also acquitted of accepting bribes and criminal mismanagement while he was secretary general under Sepp Blatter from 2007-15 but was found guilty of a lesser charge of forging documents linked to World Cup broadcasting deals in Italy and Greece
Valcke, still serving a FIFA ban for unrelated ethics violations, was given a 120-day suspended sentence and ordered to pay FIFA €1.75 million in restitution. Prosecutors had asked for a three-year term.
The same prosecutors had also called for a 28-month sentence for Al-Khelaifi (pictured), chairman of beIN Media, and 30 months for Greek businessman Dinos Deris – with partial suspension in all three cases. Deris was found not guilty today on a charge of “private corruption”.
The eagerly awaited judgement was the first handed down in Switzerland in the 20 or so proceedings opened in the last five years involving FIFA.
Valcke was alleged to have sought Al-Khelaifi’s help in the summer of 2003 to buy a luxury villa in Sardinia, right at the time when beIN was negotiating media rights in North Africa and the Middle East for the 2026 and 2030 World Cups.
Prosecutors claimed Al-Khelaifi incited Valcke to commit “aggravated criminal mismanagement”. They alleged Al-Khelaifi acquired the house for €5 million via a company that was transferred almost immediately to the brother of one of his close collaborators, before it was made available to Valcke.
It was claimed that Valcke then committed to “do what was in his power” to ensure beIN would win the contract and that he should have declared the Villa Bianca deal to his employers.
From day one, Al-Khelaifi vehemently denied the charges that the villa was in any way linked to BeIn’s $480 million deal with FIFA for the 2026 and 2030 tournaments, a record amount for the Middle East and North Africa and, his defence pointed out, significantly higher in fact than FIFA’s target of $435 million for the region.
Both men had denied any kind of “corrupt agreement” and in a strongly worded statement following today’s verdict, Al-Khelaifi, one of the most powerful figures in world football who also sits on UEFA’s executive committee and is a minister in the Qatari government, did not mince his words.
“After a relentless four-year campaign against me that ignored the basic facts and the law at every turn, I have finally, fully and completely cleared my name,” he said.
“Today’s verdict is a total vindication. It restores my faith in the rule of law and in due process, after four years of baseless allegations, fictitious charges and constant smears of my reputation – all of which have been proven to be completely and wholly unsubstantiated.”
Valcke’s conviction, albeit on a minor charge, represents the final indignity for FIFA’s one-time go-to figurehead who for years was the organisation’s chief trouble-shooter but whose career has ended in abject humiliation. He is still serving a 10-year ban from all football-related activities delivered in 2016, the same year he was sacked for the second time from FIFA.
While the Swiss judiciary authorities will be cheered at having nailed Valcke on one charge, they will be massively disappointed at having failed to gain a conviction against both him and Al-Khelaifi over the more serious allegations.
At the time of writing, the courts had not provided any statement but the rulings represent a damaging kick in the teeth for the Swiss judicial system, already under fire for its handling of the Michael Lauber affair, in particular the former Swiss attorney general’s dealings with current FIFA boss Gianni Infantino.
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