Another World Cup bribery investigation is opened
Criminal proceedings begin against PSG president Al-Khelaifi, ex-FIFA chief Valcke over broadcast rights
GENEVA — The Qatari president of one of Europe’s most glamorous soccer clubs, Paris Saint-Germain, is under investigation by Swiss prosecutors for suspected bribery of a top Fédération Internationale de Football Association executive to get World Cup broadcasting rights.
Criminal proceedings against Nasser Al-Khelaifi, PSG president and CEO of Qatar-owned BeIN Media Group, former FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke and an unnamed “businessman in the sports rights sector” were announced by the office of Switzerland’s attorney general Thursday.
The case involves the award of broadcast rights for the next four World Cups from 2018 through ’30.
The proceeding against AlKhelaifi is one of the first direct links to Qatar in sweeping investigations by federal law enforcement authorities in Switzerland, the United States, and France of FIFA, international soccer, and the 2018-2022 World Cup bidding contests.
The Paris offices of BeIN Sports were searched by two magistrates from the French financial prosecutor’s office, the federal agency said. They were assisted by investigators from an anti-corruption unit.
Properties were also searched in Greece, Italy, and Spain while Valcke was questioned in Switzerland, the Swiss federal prosecution office said. It cited co-operation from a European Union criminal investigation agency.
“Multiple premises were searched, assets were seized and interviews were conducted as a result of this joint operation,” the EU body known as Eurojust said in a statement. PSG declined to comment. No suspect was detained on Thursday, said Swiss prosecutors whose work investigating FIFA and suspected money laundering linked to World Cup hosting bids began in November 2014.
Then, FIFA gave the Swiss federal office a report and evidence from its then-ethics prosecutor — former U.S. Attorney Michael Garcia — into the dual World Cup bidding contest won by Russia and Qatar.
Al-Khelaifi is alleged to have offered “undue advantages” to Valcke — FIFA’s CEO-like secretary general from 2007 until his firing in January ’16 — for the award of media rights in “certain countries” for the ’26 and ’30 World Cup. Al-Khelaifi and Valcke previously negotiated a deal for the ’18 and ’22 rights weeks after Qatar won the ’22 hosting vote. In January ’11, FIFA announced that al Jazeera Sports — which later became BeIN — secured the rights for 23 territories across the Middle East and North Africa, including Saudi Arabia.
FIFA has never announced if BeIN also secured any ’26 and ’30 World Cup rights.
Swiss prosecutors also allege Valcke received “undue advantages” from a businessman who was not identified to award certain media rights for four World Cups from ’18 through ’30.
The criminal proceeding was opened on March 20, but announced only on Thursday, the Swiss federal office said.
Al-Khelaifi’s profile has risen in recent weeks as PSG pursued and sealed a world record transfer of Brazil star Neymar from Barcelona for €222 million ($262 million US).