KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING —- Six years ago Jerome Valcke and Nasser Al-Khelaifi were on level, high-flying terms. Valcke was secretary-general of FIFA and Al-Khelaifi was Qatar’s leading sports media executive.
Since then Al-Khelaifi’s career has gone from strength to strength while Valcke’s colllapsed. This week, however, they are back together on level terms in a Swiss court in Bellinzona, both charged over issues arising from a World Cup rights deal. Also charged along with them is Greek businessman Dinos Deris.
All three men deny all wrongdoing though Deris was not present for the opening of the trial. His lawyer, referring to his client’s recent heart surgery, requested a postponement. This was refused by presiding judge Stephan Zenger.
The case is an embarrassment for all three but an unwanted nuisance in particular right now for Al-Khelaïfi, president of Paris-Saint-Germain, boss of the BeIN Media group and a member of the powerful executive committee of the European federation UEFA.
Frenchman Valcke has been out of the sports media limelight since his sacking by FIFA and a 12-year ethics committee ban from football.
Under criminal proceedings which have been running in Switzerland since 2017, Al-Khelaïfi is being prosecuted for “aggravated unfair management” which carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison. Valcke must answer charges of “repeated aggravated unfair management”, “forgery in titles” and “repeated passive corruption.”
Deris appears on charges of “repeated active corruption.”
The most eye-catching detail of the case against Valcke was that he received from Al-Khelaïfi benefits valued at between €1, 4m and €2.3m including the use of a luxury villa in Sardinia between March 2014 to September 2015.
He is accused of enabling the award of Middle East and North African media rights to the for the 2026 and 2030 World Cups on behalf of Qatari groups Al-Jazeera and BeIn Media.
Both men have benefited from a the removal of corruption allegations after FIFA, in January, reached an “amicable agreement” to withdraw its own claim against Al-Khelaifi.
Valcke is also accused of having received, via a company of which he was the sole beneficial owner, €1.25m from Deris, in return for the award of World Cup TV rights in Italy and Greece.
An eventual verdict is scheduled for October 30 but the staging of the trial remains uncertain because of Covid-19 quarantine controls. Valcke, for example, must travel from Barcelona.
The Swiss judicial authorities have already suffered the embarrassment of seeing one major football corruption trial – concerning the German World Cup in 2006 – collapse through a mixture of health restrictions and time lapse.