BeIN's Al-Khelaifi at centre of World Cup TV rights bribery case
By Jonathan Rest
Nasser Al-Khelaifi, chairman and chief executive of the Qatar-headquartered BeIN Media Group, has been accused by Swiss prosecutors of bribing former Fifa secretary general Jérôme Valcke during the negotiations over the award of World Cup rights to the international pay-TV broadcaster.
The office of the attorney general of Switzerland today announced it has opened criminal proceedings against Valcke, who was banned from all soccer-related activity for 12 years in February 2016 (later cut to 10 years), and Al-Khelaifi, who is also president of French soccer giants Paris Saint-Germain.
The OAG statement said the case relates to bribery of private individuals, fraud, criminal mismanagement and forgery of a document.
As well as Valcke and Al-Khelaifi, an unnamed "businessman in the sports rights sector" is cited by the OAG.
It said: "It is suspected that Jérôme Valcke accepted undue advantages from a businessman in the sports rights sector in connection with the award of media rights for certain countries at the Fifa World Cups in 2018, 2022, 2026 and 2030 and from Nasser Al-Khelaifi in connection with the award of media rights for certain countries at the Fifa World Cups in 2026 and 2030."
Al Jazeera, as BeIN was originally known, has been a Fifa broadcast partner since 2009. It holds rights to the 2018 and 2022 editions of the World Cup in 23 countries in the Middle East and North Africa, and in France, where it will share coverage with TF1, the free-to-air commercial network, but these deals are not part of the proceedings.
The broadcaster has never publicly announced deals for the 2026 and 2030 World Cups.
BeIN responded with a statement today, saying: “Following a request by the office of the Attorney General of Switzerland (OAG), the BeIN Sports offices in Boulogne-Billancourt (France) were searched this morning. The employees on site cooperated with the authorities until the end of the search.
“BeIN Media Group refutes all accusations made by OAG. The company will fully cooperate with the authorities and is confident as to the further developments of this investigation.”
Valcke was questioned today and properties were searched in France, Greece, Italy and Spain. Swiss prosecutors said the action was carried out with Eurojust, a European Union agency for cooperation in criminal matters, noting: "Multiple premises were searched, assets were seized and interviews were conducted as a result of this joint operation."
The criminal proceeding was opened on 20 March, but only announced today.
The OAG added: "No one has been on remand. The presumption of innocence applies."
Valcke yesterday claimed he “never acted against the interests of Fifa” as he sought to overturn his ban at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
Following his hearing, Valcke told reporters: “I tried to show that I never acted against the interests of Fifa, that I always did my job in the best possible manner. It takes years to create your reputation, it needs one second to destroy, that’s where I am. I am living in peace with my family, I remain strong in my world and that is what I protect.
“I ask the question to myself many, many times, why such hate? Why such a desire from Fifa to destroy not only what has been done in the past but what has been done by myself?”
Valcke, who served as the right-hand man of disgraced former Fifa president Sepp Blatter, was sacked in January 2016 and subsequently banned by the ethics committee for a range of offences including involvement in a scheme to profit from World Cup ticket sales, abuse of travel expenses, including personal use of private flights, attempting to sell TV rights below their market value and destruction of evidence.
However, the ban was reduced to 10 years after the Fifa appeal committee ruled that mitigating factors had not been fully assessed with regard to Valcke’s attempt to grant TV and media rights in the Caribbean for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to a third party for a fee far below their actual market value.