KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING —- The first major trial in Switzerland arising out of the scandals which brought FIFA to its knees in 2015 ended in comparative anti-climax.
A series of corruption trials in the United States has seen various sentences, including jail terms, imposed on football bosses in the Americas.
But the Swiss judicial system has struggled to cope with the scandal as was demonstrated by the outcome of the World Cup TV rights bribery trial in Bellinzona which ended in an acquittal for beIN Media president Nasser Al-Khelaifi and a suspended 120-day jail sentence for ex-FIFA secretary-general Jerome Valcke.
Both men had denied all charges and Valcke is expected to appeal against a sentence related specifically to forging documentation concerning World Cup broadcasting deals in Italy and Greece. He was also ordered to pay FIFA €1.75 million in restitution.
Greek businessman Dinos Deris, who had been charged in connection with the Italian and Greek rights, was found not guilty of ‘private corruption’.
Qatari Al-Khelaifi, who is also a member of the executive committee of European federation UEFA and president of the French champions Paris Saint-Germain, was not in court to hear the verdict.
It had already been agreed that his presence was unnecessary considering the complications of quarantine and pandemic isolation restrictions.
In a statement, he said: “After four years of baseless allegations, fictitious accusations and constant attacks on my reputation, justice has completely cleared me.
“This verdict is a real victory and confirms that I have always acted in the strictest respect for the law and the procedures.
“I have always trusted the [judicial authorities] with which I have actively collaborated for many months to have these totally unfounded accusations rejected. I will continue to put all my energy into the service of sport, and even more so at this time when it needs the mobilisation of all forces. ”
The prosecution had sought 28 months’ jail for Al-Khelaïfi and three years for Frenchman Valcke.
The latter, between 2007 and his sacking in 2016 the secretary-general of FIFA and right-hand man of since-disgraced ex-president Sepp Blatter, was accused of ‘unfair management’ in agreeing a deal with Al-Khelaïfi behind his employer’s back.
Prosecutors claimed that the ‘reward’ for Valcke was use of a luxury coastal property – the Villa Bianca- in Sardinia worth around €5m and paid for at the end of 2013 by a company briefly owned by Al-Khelaïfi.
The following April 2014 FIFA and beIN signed off the award of media rights in the Middle East and North Africa (the so-called MENA region) for the 2026 and 2030 World Cups.
Deal between friends
The defendants insisted that the villa provision was a private deal between friends and that, in any case, beIN had no need to offer any inducements since it had no competitor for the media rights at issue.
Valcke had described the contract under which the Qatari channel would pay $480m, some 60pc more than for the 2018 and 2022 finals, as a deal which, far from damaging FIFA was in fact “amazing . . . fantastic . . . sublime.”
Separately Valcke was accused of having received €1.25m from Greek businessman Dinos Deris, in three payments from Liechtenstein, to assist in obtaining World Cup media rights in Greece and Italy.
FIFA had registered a claim of between €1.4m and €2.3m from Valcke and €1.25m from Valcke and Deris.
The trial was important for the credibility of Swiss justice after the passing of so many years processing a schedule of more than 20 FIFA-linked investigations.
Last April a trial concerning alleged bribery in the awarding to Germany of the 2006 World Cup finals collapsed after exceeding legal time limitations.