Favourable court ruling for Al-Khelaifi in Swiss corruption probe
By Simon Ward
Nasser Al-Khelaifi, the head of international pay-television giant BeIN Media Group, has received a boost as he seeks to clear his name in a corruption investigation in Switzerland with the country’s federal court having today rejected a prosecution case against the Qatari executive.
Last month, Al-Khelaifi, who is also the president of French soccer giants Paris Saint-Germain and a member of the Uefa executive committee, was cleared of bribery in a probe that also involves Jérôme Valcke, the disgraced former secretary general of Fifa, and a third unnamed accused, and relates to unlawful payments alleged to have been made for media rights to major tournaments.
However, a secondary charge of inciting Valcke to commit aggravated criminal mismanagement was maintained by the Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland.
Al-Khelaifi and the third accused were alleged to have given Valcke “undue advantages” in return for the granting of rights in Italy and Greece to Fifa World Cup and Confederations Cup competitions between 2018 and 2030.
The advantages alleged to have been received by Valcke included being allowed to live rent-free for 18 months at a villa in Sardinia in Italy that Al-Khelaifi was said to have bought through a company, which should have cost between €900,000 ($1 million) and €1.8 million.
However, the Qatari official has continued to deny any wrongdoing, and the Swiss federal court has rejected this secondary case, concluding that there was a lack of evidence of mismanagement by Valcke, so any alleged encouragement was irrelevant, that the business affairs between Valcke and Al-Khelaifi were private and personal, and not to do with Fifa, and that the federation did not suffer financial damage.
The prosecutor has 10 days to appeal against the ruling.
The federal court ruling reads: "These conditions of mismanagement are absent from the OAG’s accusation. Indeed, the accusation does not set out the specific management obligations resulting from his position as Fifa secretary general which Jérôme Valcke allegedly breached in return for the economic advantages he allegedly received from Nasser AI-Khelaifi in connection with the 'Villa Bianca'.
"The indictment also fails to explain what financial damage Jérôme Valcke has allegedly caused Fifa in this way. On the contrary, there is every reason to believe, on reading the description in the indictment, that the repayment to Jérôme Valcke of the deposit which he had paid for the purchase of the said villa after Nasser AI-Khelaifi became the owner, and the transfer by the latter in favour of the aforementioned of a free use of this property, are the result of an agreement concluded between them in a private capacity, without any connection with Jérôme Valcke's professional activity and the function of secretary general that he exercised within Fifa."
The Swiss probe has been running for three years and Valcke, who is already serving a Fifa-imposed ban from soccer, was charged with accepting bribes, aggravated criminal mismanagement and falsification of documents.
The third accused, “a businessman in the sports rights sector”, was charged with bribery, in addition to inciting Valcke to commit aggravated criminal mismanagement.
Charges of bribery against Al-Khelaifi relating to BeIN's big-money acquisition of media rights in the Middle East and North Africa to the 2026 and 2030 World Cups were dropped in February.
At the time, the Qatari executive maintained he was totally innocent, and said he expected what he described as the “secondary technical charge” to “be proven completely groundless and without any substance whatsoever, in the same way as the primary case.”
Earlier this month, it emerged that Michael Lauber, the Swiss attorney general, had been sanctioned by the legal authorities, to the tune of 8 per cent of his salary for the next year, over his conduct in the probe into allegations of corruption at Fifa.
Lauber was previously recused from the investigation for violating key procedural rules in failing to document three meetings with current Fifa president Gianni Infantino.
Lauber had been overseeing the probe into corruption in international soccer dating back to 2014, and which treats Fifa as a victim rather than a suspect.