Qatar’s Nasser Al Khelaifi denies buying luxury villa for Fifa official in TV rights scandal

Fifa’s former secretary general Jerome Valcke says ‘bribes’ were loans for his $11m debts

Nasser al-Khelaifi, president of Paris Saint-Germain, at the Federal Criminal Court in Bellinzona, Switzerland, Monday, Sept. 14, 2020. FIFA would help fund a global agency to tackle corruption in sport, its president Gianni Infantino said Monday. Infantino spoke at a United Nations event in Austria as the corruption trial was opening in Switzerland as part of a long-running investigation of soccer officials, including Qatari soccer and television executive Nasser al-Khelaifi and former FIFA secretary general Jérôme Valcke. (Francesa Agosta/Keystone via AP)
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The chairman of Qatar's beIN Media Group, Nasser Al Khelaifi, denies buying a luxury villa for a former senior Fifa official, a court has heard.

Mr Al Khelaifi and Fifa’s disgraced former secretary general Jerome Valcke are on trial in Switzerland over the awarding of television rights to future World Cups.

It is alleged Mr Valcke received exclusive use of a villa belonging to Mr Al Khelaifi in Sardinia for 18 months without having to pay a total rent of up to €1.8 million (Dh7.84m).

The court has been shown a BlackBerry Messenger message Mr Valcke sent to his wife and an email he sent to the broker for the €7m-euro villa, which is set in lush grounds in Porto Cervo on the northern coast of the idyllic Italian island, indicating that Mr Al Khelaifi was the buyer.

On Wednesday, Mr Al Khelaifi denied sending the BlackBerry message to Mr Valcke and said he had never spoken to the broker.

A rental contract for the villa was signed by Abdelkader Bessedik, an associate of Mr Al Khelaifi, it is claimed.

Mr Al Khelaifi, who is also president of French champions Paris St Germain (PSG) and sits on the executive committee of European football body Uefa, is accused of inciting Mr Valcke not to tell Fifa about favours he received from him to buy the Sardinian villa.

The issue is whether the 46-year-old, who is a former Davis Cup tennis player for Qatar, directly helped Mr Valcke to buy the villa and use it for free given that beIn Media was the sole bidder for the Middle Eastern media rights to the 2026 and 2030 World Cups.

Mr Valcke, who is accused of accepting bribes from Dinos Deris, told the court he had asked the marketing executive for help in paying his $11m (Dh40.40m) personal debt.

In a separate case to Mr Al Khelaifi, Greek businessman Mr Deris is accused of giving Mr Valcke more than $1.5 million (Dh5.51m) in bribes.

Mr Deris is charged with bribery for 1.25 million euros (Dh5.42m) he allegedly paid Valcke in exchange for favorable treatment of his bid for Greek and Italian media rights for 12 years of tournaments.

The court heard he sent Mr Deris a message in October 2016, six months before Swiss federal prosecutors opened a criminal investigation against the pair, asking him to delete their correspondence.

“Dinos, I think you should delete all correspondence between us except the one related to FIBA or SportUnited but anything else, just trash,” Mr Valcke wrote in an email presented as evidence on Wednesday at Switzerland’s Federal Criminal Court.

SportUnited is Mr Valcke’s company, which had consulting and advisory contracts with organisations including FIBA, the International Basketball Federation.

“I am a bit paranoiac these last months,” Mr Valcke said in an separate email sent a minute later.

When challenged in cross-examination, Mr Valcke said he did not have anything to reproach himself about.

“I only wanted to make sure that those around me” who might get dragged into this unfairly “would be protected,” he said.

Mr Valcke told the court a $593,000 (Dh2,17m) payment, that he is accused of accepting as a bribe from the Greek businessman, was actually a loan to help cover his debts.

He had previously told Swiss prosecutors during interviews in 2017 that his debts were closer to 4 million francs (Dh16.13m).

His bank, Credit Suisse Group AG, “wouldn’t give me a cent more”, Mr Valcke told authorities in 2017 testimony read out in court on Wednesday. “I don’t have a lot of people I can ask money from. I had to find someone who would lend me money, so I asked Dinos.”

In April 2014, Mr Valcke wrote to Mr Deris, asking for a second loan after having secured an initial $593,000 (Dh2,17m).

“Hi Dinos, One question,” he wrote in the email shown as evidence to the court.

“Long story short. I have to find 1 million euros !! Can you make me a loan payable back either next December on our future business.”

Mr Valcke told the court his debts stemmed from the purchase of two homes in Switzerland worth 7 million francs (Dh28.23m) as well as a 34-metre (112-foot) boat valued at more than 2 million francs (Dh8.07m).

Mr Valcke told the court he rejected the allegation of bribery and had never accepted money, other than a loan from the Greek.

“I didn’t arrange a corrupt deal with Dinos Deris,” he said.

In a February 2014, Mr Valcke emailed Mr Deris, saying he had been told that morning that some people “are asking questions about you and why I protect you.”

The trial is the first in Switzerland to shed light on Mr Valcke and other senior FIFA officials striking deals for media rights to football tournaments around the world that earn Fifa hundreds of millions of dollars.

The men deny the charges and the trial continues.

The scale of the money flowing between the sport’s governing body and its business partners became public after American and Swiss prosecutors opened investigations into corruption allegations at Fifa in 2015.

The scandal 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.

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 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.