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Swiss attorney general charges Valcke, Al-Khelaifi and ‘sports rights businessman’

Nasser Al-Khelaifi, President of PSG, waves to fans during a UEFA Champions League match (by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

The Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland (OAG) has filed an indictment against former Fifa secretary general Jérôme Valcke, beIN Media Group chairman and Paris Saint-Germain president Nasser Al-Khelaifi and a “businessman in the sports rights sector” over the award of media rights to various World Cup and Confederations Cup tournaments.

Criminal proceedings were first opened in March 2017, with the OAG confirming in October that year that it had opened a criminal proceeding against Valcke and Al-Khelaifi.

The OAG today (Thursday) said it has charged Valcke with accepting bribes, several counts of aggravated criminal mismanagement and falsification of documents. Al-Khelaifi and the unnamed third accused are charged with inciting Valcke to commit aggravated criminal mismanagement. The third accused is also charged with bribery.

However, Fifa has withdrawn its criminal complaint against Al-Khelaifi and partially against Valcke over the award of broadcast rights to beIN (in the Mena region) for the 2026 and 2030 World Cups. The OAG said that Fifa has informed it of an “amicable agreement” reached with Al-Khelaifi.

The OAG also said that suspicion that Valcke accepted a luxury watch from Al-Khelaifi “in return for exerting his influence as secretary general of Fifa was not found to be substantiated”.

The OAG said investigations revealed that Valcke had received undue advantages from both co-accused. Valcke is found to have refunded the down payment of around €500,000 ($540,000) that he had made to a third party on the purchase of a villa in Sardinia, which, the OAG said, Al-Khelaifi had purchased through a company instead of Valcke.

The OAG continued: “Valcke then received from Al-Khelaifi the exclusive right to use the villa for a period of 18 months – until he was suspended by Fifa – without having to pay an estimated rent in between about €900,000 and about €1.8m. From the third accused Valcke received three payments totalling about €1.25m to his company Sportunited LLC.”

The OAG said the charge of criminal mismanagement relates to the fact that Valcke had not reported the mentioned advantages that he received to Fifa, as he was required to do as its secretary general, therefore unlawfully enriching himself. In this context, Al-Khelaifi and the third accused have been charged with corresponding incitement.

In relation to the falsification of documents, Valcke is charged with causing the issuance of untruthful balance sheets for Sportunited in 2013 and 2014, in that he had the three payments from the third accused entered as loans.

The charges of paying and accepting bribes are, the OAG said, based on the allegation that Valcke exploited his position between 2013 and 2015 to influence the award of media rights in Italy and Greece to various World Cup and Confederations Cup tournaments in between 2018 and 2030 in order to favour media partners that he preferred. In return, the OAG said, the mystery third accused promised, and indeed made, the aforementioned three payments to Valcke totalling €1.25m.

Al-Khelaifi today issued a strong defence of his conduct, flagging up the dropping of certain charges.

He said: “After an exhaustive three-year investigation, where I have fully and openly cooperated with the Public Prosecutor in Switzerland, I am pleased that all charges of bribery in connection with the 2026 and 2030 World Cups have been dropped. As I have said vehemently and repeatedly for three years, the charges have not – and have never had – any basis whatsoever, either in fact or law.

“It is now – finally – indisputable fact that the 2026 and 2030 agreements were negotiated at arms-lengths and without any improper influence in any form. After the most forensic public, private, lawful and unlawful scrutiny of all my dealings, I have been cleared of all suspicions of bribery and the case has been dismissed definitively and conclusively.”

He noted that a secondary technical charge remains outstanding, but said that he has “every expectation that this will be proven completely groundless and without any substance whatsoever, in the same way as the primary case”. The beIN group chairman has also requested that the relevant Swiss authorities open a criminal enquiry into the conduct of the investigation in a process he describes as “characterised by constant leaks, misinformation and a seemingly relentless agenda to smear my reputation in the media”.

Al-Khelaifi has previously said he has “nothing to hide” after being questioned by Swiss investigators as the OAG proceedings swung into action. BeIN and Valcke denied any wrongdoing after OAG confirmed that it had opened a criminal proceeding against the Frenchman and Al-Khelaifi, who is also a member of the Executive Committee of European football’s governing body Uefa.

In January 2011, beIN (then Al Jazeera Sport) acquired the rights to all major Fifa events, excluding the Club World Cup, between 2015 and 2022 in 23 territories across the Middle East and North Africa region. It was Fifa’s incumbent rights-holder in the region, having bought out the previous rights-holder ART in November 2009, and subsequently transformed into beIN Media Group.

In July 2018, Valcke saw his appeal against a 10-year ban imposed by Fifa dismissed by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). Valcke filed an appeal at CAS in February 2017. He appealed against the decision issued by the Fifa Appeal Committee in June 2016, of which full written reasons were only released in February 2017, in which he was banned from taking part in any football-related activity for a period of 10 years.

Fifa in July 2016 announced that its Appeal Committee had opted to reduce the ban imposed on the French executive. In February 2016, Valcke was handed a 12-year ban from all football-related activities by Fifa’s Ethics Committee for multiple areas of misconduct.