FILE - In this Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2019 file photo, Paris Saint Germain owner Nasser bin Ghanim Al-Khelaifi waves to teams fans at the end of their soccer match against Manchester United at Old Trafford stadium in Manchester, England. Paris Saint-Germain president Nasser al-Khelaifi was charged Thursday Feb. 20, 2020 by Swiss federal prosecutors in connection with a wider bribery investigation linked to World Cup television rights. (AP Photo/Dave Thompson, file)

Swiss prosecutors charge Al-Khelaifi in FIFA bribery case

February 20, 2020 - 7:18 am

GENEVA (AP) — Paris Saint-Germain president Nasser al-Khelaifi was charged Thursday by Swiss federal prosecutors in connection with a wider bribery investigation linked to FIFA and World Cup television rights.

The office of Switzerland’s attorney general filed an indictment charging Al-Khelaifi with inciting former FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke “to commit aggravated criminal mismanagement.”

The Qatari soccer and television executive, however, no longer faces an accusation of bribery. Following a three-year investigation, FIFA reached an"unspecified‘amicable agreement’” with Al-Khelaifi last month, prosecutors said, to drop its criminal complaint relating to the awarding of 2026 and 2030 World Cup rights to Qatari broadcaster BeIN Sports.

Al-Khelaifiis the head of Doha-based BeIN Sports and also a member of the UEFA executive committee. FIFA declined to comment on the specifics of its confidential deal with him.

Al-Khelaifi was indicted for his alleged part in providing Valcke — who had influence over the awarding of World Cup rights until being removed from office in 2015 — with use of a luxury villa in Sardinia without paying rent valued at up to 1.8 million euros ($1.94 million).

“As I have said vehemently and repeatedly for three years, the charges have not — and have never had — any basis whatsoever, either in fact or law,” Al-Khelaifi said in a statement Thursday.

Valcke was charged with accepting bribes, “several counts of aggravated criminal mismanagement … and falsification of documents.”

For the first time in the five-year investigation of FIFA business, Swiss prosecutors revealed that they believe Valcke received kickbacks totaling 1.25 million euros ($1.35 million) to steer World Cup rights toward favored broadcasters in Italy and Greece.

A third person who was not identified was charged with bribery over those payments and also for incitement to commit aggravated criminal mismanagement by Valcke,who was FIFA's top administrator for eight years from 2007. It is unclear why the third accused person has not been identified.

Al-Khelaifi was appointed to the UEFA executive committee, representing European soccer clubs, one year ago despite being implicated in the bribery case. He is also an influential board member of the European Club Association, which is seeking to drive reforms in the Champions League favored by elite clubs such as French champion PSG.

UEFA declined comment Thursday about the possibility that Al-Khelaifi could be provisionally suspended before an executive committee meeting in Amsterdam on March 2.

Al-Khelaifi previously denied wrongdoing after being questioned by Swiss federal authorities in October 2017 and again last December in connection with criminal proceedings opened three years ago. He has also been implicated in a separate corruption investigation by French prosecutors that is linked to Qatar seeking hosting rights for the track and field world championships. Doha hosted the 2019 edition.

In his statement, Al-Khelaifi said there was a “seemingly relentless agenda to smear my reputation in the media."

"For that reason, I have requested the relevant Swiss authorities to open a criminal enquiry into the conduct of the investigation," he said.

The investigation in Switzerland began in November 2014 when FIFA, under then-president Sepp Blatter, filed a criminal complaint about suspected money laundering linked to the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bidding contests, which were won by Russia and Qatar.

Swiss prosecutors then worked with United States federal investigators on connected but separate sweeping investigations. They were unsealed in May 2015 with early morning arrests of soccer officials at hotels in Zurich two days before Blatter was re-elected.

Within days, Blatter announced his plan to resign. Three months later, long-time right-hand man Valcke was suspended from duty for suspected financial wrongdoing and excessive use of private jets. The former TV presenter from France was later banned by FIFA from all soccer duty for 10 years.

“The investigations revealed that Valcke had received undue advantages from both co-accused” and did not report them to FIFA, Swiss prosecutors said Thursday.

Valcke was refunded 500,000 euros ($540,000) from a third party for the down payment on the villa in upscale Porto Cervo, Sardinia. Prosecutors said “Al-Khelaifi had purchased the villa through a company instead of Valcke.”

Valcke also received three payments to his private company, called Sportunited, which were falsely entered into accounts as loans, prosecutors said.

Swiss prosecutors have pressed ahead with their case without input from the attorney general, Michael Lauber, who was recused from the case last year. Lauber came under pressure for having two meetings in 2016 with FIFA president Gianni Infantino about the case, before it emerged they had an undeclared third meeting in 2017.

In the wider Swiss investigation, German officials from the 2006 World Cup organizing committee have also been charged over irregular payments linked to FIFA.

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