Swiss prosecutors grill PSG's al-Khelaifi in World Cup probe

AFP
Al-Khelaifi, a Qatari with close ties to the Gulf state's royal family, is under investigation for allegedly striking illegal deals with ex-FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke.
AFP
AFP

From left: Frenchman Francis Szpiner and Swiss duo Gregoire Mangeat and Marc Bonnant, lawyers of Paris Saint-Germain president and beIN Media chief Nasser al-Khelaifi, take a break outside the offices of Swiss attorney general in Bern during a hearing of their client on the latest FIFA World Cup corruption probe, on October 25, 2017.

Swiss prosecutors grilled Paris Saint-Germain president and beIN Media chief Nasser al-Khelaifi on Wednesday over allegations that he obtained World Cup media rights by bribing a top FIFA executive.

Al-Khelaifi, a Qatari with close ties to the Gulf state's royal family, is under investigation for allegedly striking illegal deals with disgraced former FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke, who had been Sepp Blatter's right-hand man.    

"The interrogation will take a long time due to translation issues but also the quality of the questions and complexity of the issues at stake," said Swiss attorney general (OAG) spokesman Andre Marty.

"One needs to be quite patient with the ongoing criminal proceedings," he told reporters. 

Marty said there was "a good chance it might not finish today" and that al-Khelaifi's lawyers and Swiss prosecutors may have to mutually agree to another hearing in the coming weeks.     

Al-Khelaifi, 43, and his legal team arrived at the OAG headquarters in the Swiss capital Bern at about 9:30am, avoiding the main entrance.

They were not seen by the roughly two dozen reporters gathered outside.

Khelaifi and Valcke have been under investigation since March in connection with media rights for the 2026 and 2030 World Cups on allegations, including corruption, bribery, criminal mismanagement and forgery of a document.

Authorities in France, Greece, Italy and Spain have cooperated with the Swiss probe, including by raiding properties.

But the OAG only went public with the case on October 12. 

Al-Khelaifi's high-profile French lawyer, Francis Szpiner, then swiftly announced that his sports tycoon client "denies any corruption" and "wanted to be heard as soon as possible" by Swiss prosecutors.

OAG spokesman Marty told reporters there was "a good dozen" lawyers in the room on Wednesday, "from all parties involved", in addition to two representatives of the Swiss attorney general.

It is highly likely that FIFA lawyers were present, since the integrity of contracts signed by Valcke on behalf of world football's governing body is a central question in the case.

The beIN Media group, which is headquartered in Doha, has insisted that its World Cup rights deals were "advantageous for FIFA", rejecting any suggestion that it got favorable treatment.

Broadcasting rights

The contract covers broadcasting rights for the MENA (Middle East, North Africa) region for the tournaments.

The Qatar broadcaster's offices in Paris have been raided at the request of Swiss authorities.

A raid was also carried out at a luxury Sardinian villa that, it is alleged, was put at the disposal of Valcke, who is serving a 10-year ban from all football-related activity.

The villa, set in lush grounds on the Mediterranean island and which has an estimated value of 7 million euros (US$8.3 million), is owned by an international real estate agency.

Valcke, a 53-year-old French national, has told the French sports newspaper L'Equipe that he "received nothing from Nasser".

An increasingly prominent figure in sports and media, al-Khelaifi oversaw PSG's 222-million euro world-record signing of Brazilian superstar Neymar in August.

PSG, which was bought by Qatar Sports Investments in 2011, is not implicated in the Swiss investigation.

The corruption accusations are the latest to rock world football which is still reeling from the events of 2015, when FIFA officials were arrested en masse at the governing body's annual conference.

They are also the latest allegations to target Qatar.

The Gulf state has found itself routinely accused of corruption since controversially winning the right to host the 2022 World Cup, charges it has always denied.

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