Al-Khelaifi acquitted, Valcke given suspended sentence in TV rights trial

AFP , Friday 30 Oct 2020

 Nasser Al-Khelaifi
Paris Saint-Germain chief Nasser Al-Khelaifi was cleared of corruption by the Swiss Federal Criminal Court (AFP)

Paris Saint-Germain president Nasser Al-Khelaifi was on Friday acquitted by a Swiss court of corruption over the allocation of World Cup TV rights, while former FIFA number two Jerome Valcke was handed a suspended 120-day sentence for a secondary charge and fined 1.65 million euros ($1.92 million).

Al-Khelaifi, the chairman of beIN Media, was cleared of inciting aggravated criminal mismanagement, with Valcke found guilty of a separate charge of forging documents related to the attribution of Italian and Greek World Cup TV rights.

Valcke was ordered to pay 1.65 million euros in compensation to FIFA, including 400,000 euros in the main case, as well as 80,000 Swiss francs ($87,000) in legal costs.

"The defendants receive a yellow card, but no more", concluded the president of the court, Stephan Zenger.

A delighted Marc Bonnant, one of Al-Khelaifi's lawyers, was overheard to say outside the court that they had "debagged" the prosecution.

Prosecutors had called for a jail term of three years for Valcke and a 28-month sentence for Al-Khelaifi following 10 days of hearings at the Swiss Federal Criminal Court of Bellinzona in September.

They also requested 30 months for Greek businessman Dinos Deris -- with partial suspension in all three cases. Deris was found not guilty on Friday on a charge of "private corruption".

It was the first judgement handed down in Switzerland, the seat of most international sports organisations, in the 20 or so proceedings opened in the last five years involving FIFA.

Two former Latin American football leaders have been jailed in the United States.

"After a relentless four-year campaign against me that ignored the basic facts and the law at every turn, I have finally, fully and completely cleared my name. Today's verdict is a total vindication," Al-Khelaifi said in a statement.

"It restores my faith in the rule of law and in due process, after four years of baseless allegations, fictitious charges and constant smears of my reputation – all of which have been proven to be completely and wholly unsubstantiated."

"I can now devote all my energy to my various roles, which are all focused on building a positive future for world sport – at a time when the industry needs strong leadership the most," he added.

Valcke, the former right-hand man of disgraced FIFA president Sepp Blatter, and Al-Khelaifi were accused of a "corrupt agreement" over Qatari-owned broadcaster beIN's extension of its media rights in North Africa and the Middle East for the 2026 and 2030 World Cups.

Luxury villa in question 

The public prosecutor's office said Valcke sought the Qatari's help in the summer of 2003 to buy a luxury villa in Sardinia, at a time when beIN was negotiating the extension.

The prosecutor said Al-Khelaifi acquired the house for five million euros ($5.85 million), via a company that was transferred almost immediately to the brother of one of his close collaborators, before it was made available to Valcke.

The two men denied wrongdoing and said the deal was a "private" arrangement, unrelated to the contract concluded by beIN with FIFA in April 2014.

The prosecution said Valcke committed to "do what was in his power" to ensure beIN would win the contract and should have declared the Villa Bianca deal to his employers.

They said he had been pressured by Al-Khelaifi to damage FIFA's interests illegally.

The defendants had argued the deal, which FIFA has never tried to undo, was "golden" and "sublime" since the $480 million beIN paid for the two World Cups was 60% more than for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, when it faced no competition.

"Nothing indicates FIFA could have obtained a more advantageous contract," the court said in its ruling.

Swiss prosecutors dropped a charge of corruption before the case reached trial because of an out-of-court settlement in January between Al-Khelaifi and FIFA, which then withdrew its complaint against him.

Valcke, currently serving a 10-year ban from football, also stood accused of receiving kickbacks totalling 1.25 million euros from Deris, in three payments from Liechtenstein, to influence the awarding of media rights for Italy and Greece for World Cups and other tournaments between 2018 and 2030.

He was cleared of the most serious charges of accepting bribes and aggravated criminal mismanagement but was handed a suspended prison sentence for forgery. 

(For more sports news and updates, follow Ahram Online Sports on Twitter at @AO_Sports and on Facebook at AhramOnlineSports.)

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