KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING —- Another blow to the image of Gulf states’ million-dollar investments in world football has erupted with charges being laid in Switzerland against Qatar media boss Nasser Al-Kheliaifi and former FIFA secretary-general Jerome Valcke.
Al-Khelaifi, apart from being managing director of Qatar’s acquisitive BeIN Media Group is also president of French champions Paris Saint-Germain and a member of the executive committee of European federation UEFA as a delegate from the European Club Association.
Frenchman Valcke was effective No2 at world federation FIFA from 2007 until he was suspended then sacked in 2016. Later he was banned from football for 10 years after allegations of World Cup ticket-touting and expenses breaches.
The charges filed by the Swiss Federal Prosector’s Office conerns the awarding of media rights to various World Cups and FIFA Confederations Cups. A third, unnamed person has also been charged.
This comes hard on the heels of the imposition of two-year ban from European competition of Abu-Dhabi-owned English champions Manchester City for breaches of financial fair play regulations.
Both men have denied all wrongdoing ever since a criminal investigation was opened two years ago.
Intriguingly, FIFA recently stepped back from the process after reaching an “amicable” settlement with Al-Khelaifi though not entirely with Valcke. This was reportedly priced at around $1m and removed the likelihood of ongoing embarrassment for FIFA with one of its most high-profile rights clients.
A prosecutor’s office statement explained:
Valcke is accused of passive bribery (Art. 4a (1) in conjunction with the old Art. 23 of the Federal Law Against Unfair Competition [UWG]), multiple qualified unfaithful conduct of business (Art. 158 Section 1 (3) of the Swiss Criminal Code [ StGB]) and forgery of documents (Art. 251 StGB). The facts charged with are no longer qualified as fraud (Art. 146 SCC).
Al-Khelaifi and the third accused accuse the indictment of the qualified, unfaithful conduct of business committed by Valcke (Art. 24 and Art. 158 para. 1 SCC).
The third accused is also accused of active bribery (Art. 4a para. 1 in conjunction with the old Art. 23 UWG).
It emerged from the investigation that Valcke had received undue advantages from both of the co-accused. Valcke received a down payment of around €500,000 that he had made to a third party for a villa in Sardinia after Al-Khelaifi had acquired the villa through a company in Valcke’s place.
Thereafter, Valcke received from Al-Khelaifi the sole right of use for the villa for a total of 18 months – until its suspension from FIFA – without paying a rent in the estimated equivalent of between around €900,000 and around €1.8m to have. From the third accused, Valcke received three payments totaling EUR 1.25 million to his company Sportunited GmbH.
‘Breach of duty’
The accusation of unfaithful business management arises from the fact that Valcke had not reported the above-mentioned advantages to FIFA and, as a result, acted in breach of duty as its general secretary and enriched himself unlawfully. In this context, the indictment accuses Al-Khelaifi and the third suspect of inciting them.
Regarding the falsification of documents, the accusation accuses Valcke of having arranged the unaccounted-for balance sheets of Sportunited GmbH for the years 2013 and 2014 by incorrectly booking the three aforementioned payments of the third accused as a loan.
The allegations of active and passive bribery are based on the fact that Valcke used his influence as FIFA secretary-general between 2013 and 2015 to award media rights processes for Italy and Greece to various World Cups and FIFA Confederations Cups between 2018 and 2030 in favor of his preferred media partners.
In return, the third accused Valcke promised and granted the above three payments with a total value of EUR 1.25 million.
However, the suspicion that Valcke, in return for his influence as FIFA general secretary, had accepted a luxury watch donated to him by Al-Khelaifi for this purpose has not been substantiated. A decision to discontinue this matter was therefore issued in February 2020.
FIFA claim withdrawn
The statement went on to explain that an investigation had been opened in March 2017 and following an initial submission by FIFA in December 2016.
In December 2019 FIFA withdrew its own complaint against Al-Khelaifi – after reaching an “amicable settlement ” – but withdrew only partly against Valcke.
This FIFA withdrawal concerned bribery allegations against Al-Khelaifi and Valcke over media rights to the 2026 and 2030 World Cup and other FIFA events for the Middle East and North Africa region in return for access to villa in Sardinia.
The statement added:
The partial withdrawal does not affect the allegations of active and passive bribery between Valcke and the third suspect, who are now being charged. In addition, the partial withdrawal has no impact on criminal prosecution in relation to official offenses, i.e. the suspicion of unfaithful business management, inciting unfaithful business management and forgery of documents, which are now also being indicted.
The case is further complicated by changes during the period concerned in Swiss law concerning bribery.
UEFA said simply: “We do not have any comment to make at this stage.”