BeIN chairman and ex-Fifa boss charged in Swiss corruption probe

Nasser Al Khelaifi is accused of striking luxury villa deal in bid to secure broadcast rights

FILE - In this Aug. 25, 2016 file photo, President of Paris Saint-Germain soccer club, Nasser Al-Khelaifi, gestures during the UEFA Champions League draw at the Grimaldi Forum, in Monaco. 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. He met with Switzerland’s federal prosecutors, two weeks after they revealed criminal proceedings against him. Al-Khelaifi is also Qatari soccer and television executive. (AP Photo/Claude Paris, File)
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BeIN Media Group chairman Nasser Al Khelaifi and a former senior Fifa official have been charged following a bribery probe into the award of media rights for international football tournaments, Swiss prosecutors said on Thursday.

Disgraced former Fifa secretary general Jerome Valcke, is accused along with Mr Al Khelaifi in connection with a property deal involving the purchase of a villa in Sardinia, the attorney-general’s office said in a statement.

They both face criminal charges over claims that Mr Valcke exploited his position to influence the awarding of media rights for Italy and Greece for various World Cup and Confederation cup tournaments from 2018 to 2030.

A broader investigation into alleged bribery connected to the two men over broadcasting rights for the World Cup in 2026 and 2030 and other Fifa events in the Middle East was abandoned.

As a result, Mr Al Khelaifi is no longer accused of bribery after Fifa reached an “amicable settlement” last month with the Qatari following a three-year internal inquiry. The settlement meant that Swiss prosecutors could no longer pursue the case, the statement said.

Fifa declined to comment on the terms of the settlement.

As head of Qatar’s beIN Media Group, Mr Khelaifi secured television rights for four World Cups including the 2022 tournament in Qatar, across the Middle East and North Africa.

Mr Khelaifi, the president of football club Paris Saint-Germain (PSG), is accused of inciting Mr Valcke to “commit aggravated criminal mismanagement” related to the property deal.

Mr Valcke, who used to be former FIFA supremo Sepp Blatter’s right-hand-man, was allegedly refunded a down-payment of 500,000 euros for the Sardinian villa after Mr Al Khelaifi purchased the villa through a separate company.

The villa, set in lush grounds in Porto Cervo on the northern coast of the idyllic Italian island, has an estimated value of seven million euros and is owned by an international real estate agency.

Mr Valcke then received from Mr Al Khelaifi the exclusive right to use the villa for 18 months until he was suspended by Fifa without having to pay the estimated rent of up to 1.8 million euros, according to the statement.

Italian police raided the villa back in 2017 when Swiss authorities announced the probe against the three men on suspicion of “the bribery of private individuals”.

Officials also searched properties in Greece, Italy, Spain and France, including beIN’s office in Paris.

Mr Al Khelaifi has previously denied wrongdoing. BeIN has yet to comment on the charges.

Claims that Mr Valcke accepted a luxury watch offered by Mr Al Khelaifi in return for “exerting his influence” was “not found to be substantiated,” the statement said.

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.

Mr Valcke is also accused of accepting 1.25 million euros from an unidentified businessman in the sports right sector. The businessman is accused of bribery as well.

Mr Valcke was already serving a ten-year ban from all football-related activity after he was found guilty by Fifa of misconduct over the sale of World Cup tickets, abuse of travel expenses, attempting to sell television rights below their market value and destruction of evidence.

He is now charged by the Swiss with accepting bribes, aggravated criminal mismanagement and falsification of documents.

Fifa was embroiled in the worst corruption scandal in its history in 2015 which led to its president Sepp Blatter and UEFA president Michel Platini being banned from the sport while several dozen officials were indicted in the United States on corruption-related charges.