KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING —- Swiss authorities, in the latest remarkable twist to their FIFA corruption investigations, have launched an inquiry into Qatari broadcaster BeIN’s acquisition of World Cup television rights.
The Office of the Attorney-General announced that criminal proceedings had been opened against Nasser Al-Khelaïfi, the ceo of BeIN Media Group, against Jerome Valcke, the former secretary-general of world football federation FIFA, and against an unnamed “businessman in the sports rights sector”.
Al-Khelaifi is also president of French club Paris Saint-Germain who made worldwide headlines in the summer by paying a record €222m for Barcelona’s Brazilian superstar Neymar.
Furthermore, he is a member of the executive committee of the European Club Association by virtue of his joint status as an ECA delegate on the UEFA professional football strategy council.
The allegation is that Frenchman Valcke received “illegal advantages in connection with the allocation of broadcasting rights by beIN in certain countries for the 2018, 2022, 2026 and 2030 Football World Cups.”
Previously Al-Khelaifi and Valcke had negotiated a deal for the 2018 and 2022 rights weeks after Qatar won the 2022 hosting vote.
In January 2011, FIFA announced that Aljazeera Sports — which later became BeIN — secured the rights for 23 territories across the Middle East and North Africa, including Saudi Arabia.
BeIN has also acquired wide-ranging TV rights from European governing body UEFA for Champions League and European Championship matches.
This development followed a day after Valcke appeared before the Court of Arbitration for Sport, seeking the overturning of his 10-year suspension from football which was imposed by the FIFA ethics committee last year.
Valcke has always denied any wrongdoing in connection with his work as FIFA’s No2 between 2007 and the autumn of 2015 when he was suspended initially over allegations that he had sought to bypass ticketing contracts for his own ends.
A statement from the Swiss authorities said Valcke had been interviewed after attending his CAS appeal but had not been detained.
Raids on offices and properties including BeIN’s offices in Paris were carried out by agents from the French financial prosecutor’s office and the national anti-corruption unit as well as in Greece, Italy and Spain.
Valcke is also the subject of another criminal procedure opened by the Office of the Swiss Attorney-General in March 2016. This concerns the allegations concerning tickets for the 2014 World Cup 2014 from which the latest investigation emanated.
In December 2010 Qatar was shock winner of host rights to the 2022 World Cup but was cleared of any malpractice by a FIFA ethics inquiry.
Staging the finals has been a major plank of the tiny Gulf state’s ‘soft power’ strategy. It has come under heavy pressure lately from a boycott by a Saudi-led coalition of neighbouring nations.
FIFA, commenting on the latest turn of events, said it “fully supports the investigation” and reiterated its claim to consider itself “a damaged party in this investigation.”