PSG’s Qatari pres­i­dent un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion for bribery

BeIN chairman be­ing probed for sus­pected pay­off to FIFA exec for broad­cast­ing rights

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - FRONT PAGE -

GENEVA: The Qatari pres­i­dent of one of Europe’s most glam­orous foot­ball clubs, Paris Saint-Ger­main, is un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion by Swiss prose­cu­tors for sus­pected bribery of a top FIFA 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 uniden­ti­fied “busi­ness­man in the sports rights sec­tor” was 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 2030.

The pro­ceed­ing against Al-Khe­laifi 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 foot­ball, and the 2018-22 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 co­op­er­a­tion 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 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 2016 – for the award of me­dia rights in “cer­tain coun­tries” for the 2026 and 2030 World Cup.

Al-Khe­laifi and Val­cke pre­vi­ously ne­go­ti­ated a deal for the 2018 and 2022 rights weeks after Qatar won the 2022 host­ing vote.

In Jan­uary 2011, 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 2026 and 2030 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 2018 through 2030.

The crim­i­nal pro­ceed­ing was opened on March 20, but an­nounced only 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 euros ($260 mil­lion).

Since FIFA’s much-dis­cred­ited ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee picked Rus­sia and Qatar in De­cem­ber 2010, the gas-rich emi­rate has bought up PSG with sov­er­eign wealth and in­stalled Al-Khe­laifi as pres­i­dent.

BeIN has also ac­quired a broad port­fo­lio of rights in­clud­ing from Euro­pean foot­ball body UEFA for the Cham­pi­ons League and na­tional team matches. The lat­est case stem­ming from the wider in­ves­ti­ga­tion of FIFA’s busi­ness also saw crim­i­nal pro­ceed­ings opened against Val­cke in March 2016.

Val­cke was the right-hand man to then-FIFA boss Sepp Blat­ter for over eight years un­til a swath of se­nior ex­ec­u­tives at foot­ball’s world body were removed from of­fice in fall­out from a U.S. Depart­ment of Jus­tice in­dict­ment re­vealed in May 2015.

Val­cke, a French for­mer TV pre­sen­ter, was in Switzer­land Wed­nes­day to tes­tify at the Court of Ar­bi­tra­tion for Sport in his ap­peal hear­ing against a 10-year ban by FIFA for fi­nan­cial wrong­do­ing and abuse of ex­penses.

FIFA said Thurs­day it “fully sup­ports the in­ves­ti­ga­tion” by Swiss and other au­thor­i­ties. “FIFA has con­sti­tuted it­self as a dam­aged party in this in­ves­ti­ga­tion,” the Zurich­based or­ga­ni­za­tion said.

FIFA is seek­ing a share of more than $200 mil­lion held by the U.S. Depart­ment of Jus­tice, which se­cured for­feits from foot­ball and mar­ket­ing of­fi­cials in its on­go­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion. The DoJ has in­dicted or se­cured guilty pleas from more than 40 peo­ple. –

Al-Khe­laifi’s pro­file has risen since PSG sealed a record trans­fer for Ney­mar.

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