LONDON — Swiss prosecutors on Thursday charged Nasser al-Khelaifi, a Qatari businessman who is one of the most prominent figures in soccer, with inciting a former secretary general at FIFA to break the law and the official, Jérôme Valcke, with accepting bribes and criminal mismanagement.
The charges came more than two years after the Swiss authorities announced they had begun an investigation into lucrative World Cup television rights that were secured by BeIN, the Qatar-based broadcaster run by al-Khelaifi. The television broadcaster has been one of the world’s biggest buyers of sports content for much of the past decade.
In that time, al-Khelaifi’s profile and importance in soccer have grown to make him among the most important figures in the industry. Al-Khelaifi not only presides over BeIN; he is also the president of Paris St.-Germain, France’s powerhouse soccer team, and sits on the boards of European soccer’s governing body, UEFA, and an alliance of the Continent’s top clubs, the European Clubs Association.
A more serious bribery charge was dropped after al-Khelaifi struck an out-of-court agreement with FIFA, soccer’s global governing body.
In the charging statement provided by the office of the Swiss attorney general, al-Khelaifi and a third unidentified man were accused of inciting Valcke to commit aggravated “criminal mismanagement” by providing him with “undue advantages.”
According to the indictment, the charges against al-Khelaifi stem from the purchase of a luxury villa on the Italian island of Sardinia that he made available to Valcke while Valcke was the No. 2 official at FIFA. The court estimated the cost of allowing Valcke to occupy the property rent free for 18 months was as much as 1.8 million euros, or $1.9 million.
Valcke, who in his FIFA post was responsible for the World Cup, faces far more serious charges. A Frenchman, Valcke has been out of the public eye since leaving FIFA in disgrace in 2015, is also accused of accepting bribes and falsifying documents.
The bribery charges against Valcke and the third man are related to the awarding of broadcast rights to the World Cup and other FIFA tournaments in Italy and Greece through 2030, according to the indictment.
According to people familiar with the case and an official document, the third man is Konstantinos Nteris, the chief executive of TAF Sports, a Greek sports marketing company that secured rights in Greece and Italy for FIFA tournaments.
Nteris, who is referred to in the indictment documents as “the third accused,” is said to have made three payments totaling €1.25 million, according to the charging document.
When called for comment, an official at TAF Sports said Nteris, who is more commonly known as Dino Deris, was not available. A spokesman for the Swiss attorney general’s office said it had not released the name of the third defendant in line with Switzerland’s criminal code.
The al-Khelaifi episode has been hugely embarrassing for UEFA, which faced regular questioning about how al-Khelaifi could remain on its board while he was under criminal investigation. He has been charged in a separate bribery case by prosecutors in France.
UEFA did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But its president, Aleksander Ceferin, and Andrea Agnelli, who leads the clubs’ association, have both previously backed al-Khelaifi.
The indictment also said that FIFA, which will hold the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, had reached an unspecified “amicable agreement” with al-Khelaifi to drop a complaint related to accusations of bribery linked to the awarding of media rights to BeIN for the 2026 and 2030 World Cup tournaments, which were secured by the Qatari broadcaster at the same time that Valcke was offered use of the villa in Sardinia.
The attorney general’s office said that Swiss law allows a bribery complaint to be investigated only if there had been a complaint. “The withdrawal of the complaint meant that a procedural requirement for the prosecution of these offenses was no longer met,” the office said.
FIFA has not commented on the agreement.
In a statement on Thursday, al-Khelaifi said: “After an exhaustive three-year investigation, where I have fully and openly cooperated with the public prosecutor in Switzerland, I am pleased that all charges of bribery in connection with the 2026 and 2030 World Cups have been dropped.”
“The charges have not — and have never had — any basis whatsoever, either in fact or law,” he added.
The statement also said he had asked the Swiss authorities to open a criminal inquiry “into the conduct of the investigation” because of “constant leaks.”
Source : NYtimes