Swiss Federal Court rejects Al-Khelaifi corruption indictment

Nasser Al-Khelaifi attends the ATP Qatar ExxonMobil Open in his capacity as president of Qatar Tennis Federation (by Quality Sport Images/Getty Images)

BeIN Media Group chairman and Paris Saint-Germain president, Nasser Al-Khelaifi, has been boosted in his legal battle with Swiss authorities with the news that the country’s Federal Criminal Court has asked the Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland (OAG) to review its indictment.

In February, the OAG filed an indictment against former Fifa secretary general Jérôme Valcke, 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 on February 20 said it had charged Valcke with accepting bribes, several counts of aggravated criminal mismanagement and falsification of documents. Al-Khelaifi and the unnamed third accused were charged with inciting Valcke to commit aggravated criminal mismanagement. The third accused was also charged with bribery.

However, Fifa withdrew 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 had informed it of an “amicable agreement” reached with Al-Khelaifi.

The OAG said investigations revealed that Valcke had received undue advantages from both co-accused. Valcke was found to have refunded the down payment of around €500,000 ($554,000) 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 said the charge of criminal mismanagement related 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 were charged with corresponding incitement.

The move by the Swiss Federal court relates to the OAG’s claims that Al-Khelaifi induced or encouraged Valcke to mis-report or mis-manage business dealings.

The Swiss Federal court said in its ruling: “These conditions of mismanagement are absent from the OAG’s accusation. Indeed, the accusation does not set out the specific management obligations resulting from his position as Fifa general secretary which Jérôme Valcke allegedly breached in return for the economic advantages he allegedly received from Nasser AI-Khelaifi in connection with the ‘Villa Bianca’.

“The indictment also fails to explain what financial damage Jerome Valcke has allegedly caused Fifa in this way.

“On the contrary, there is every reason to believe, on reading the description in the indictment, that the repayment to Jerome Valcke of the deposit which he had paid for the purchase of the said villa after Nasser AI-Khelaifi became the owner, and the transfer by the latter in favour of the aforementioned of a free use of this property, are the result of an agreement concluded between them in a private capacity, without any connection with Jérôme Valcke’s professional activity and the function of general secretary that he exercised within Fifa.”

The OAG has 10 days from the Swiss Federal court’s notification, on March 27, to amend its indictment or appeal the decision.

Citing a source close to the case, the French newspaper Le Monde said “the judges did not want to go to trial with a case that did not hold up”.

In the wake of February’s indictment, Al-Khelaifi issued a strong defence of his conduct, flagging up the dropping of certain charges. Al-Khelaifi has previously said he has “nothing to hide” after being questioned by Swiss investigators as the OAG proceedings swung into action.

Earlier this month it emerged that Swiss attorney general Michael Lauber was disciplined for misconduct during an investigation into Fifa. The supervisory authority of the Swiss Federal Prosecutor’s Office (AB-BA) concluded a probe into Lauber that was first launched in May. The investigation centred on an undisclosed meeting Lauber held with Fifa president Gianni Infantino and his handling of the five-year investigation into the governance of Fifa.

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.