Swiss court puts Qatari Nasser al-Khelaifi on trial in football case next week

FILE PHOTO: Nasser Al-Khelaifi (L), Paris St Germain's club owner and owner of Qatari TV channel Al Jazeera Sport, President of beIN Sport French TV channel, attends a news conference in Paris May 24, 2012. Picture taken May 24, 2012. (Reuters)

In Switzerland’s federal criminal court on Monday, Nasser al-Khelaifi will become the first Qatari to stand trial almost six years after FIFA asked prosecutors to investigate the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bidding contests.

Al-Khelaifi, the president of Champions League finalist Paris Saint-Germain and chairman of Qatar-owned broadcaster beIN Media Group, is charged with inciting a former top FIFA official to commit “aggravated criminal mismanagement.”

Prosecutors have implicated al-Khelaifi in providing exclusive use of a luxury villa on the Italian island of Sardinia to the official — former FIFA secretary general Jérôme Valcke.

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The 46-year-old al-Khelaifi has been the focus of a broader case opened in 2017 even if the most serious charges are faced separately by the other two defendants in a trial slated to last two weeks in Bellinzona.

Valcke and marketing agency executive Dinos Deris are implicated in bribery linked to World Cup broadcast rights deals for Greece and Italy that did not involve the Qatari or beIN.

“The vast majority of this case does not relate to our client in any way,” al-Khelaifi’s team of lawyers from Switzerland and England said in a statement.

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The trial opens just three weeks after al-Khelaifi was seen by a global TV audience on the field at the Champions League final in Lisbon for the trophy and medals ceremony. He was consoling PSG’s players after their 1-0 loss to Bayern Munich.

Al-Khelaifi is widely seen as representing the Qatari state. The former tennis professional is a close friend of the Emir, a minister without portfolio in the national government, and visible sign of the 2022 World Cup host nation’s influence on European football.

On Sept. 24, during the scheduled second week in court, al-Khelaifi would have been due to attend a meeting of European football body UEFA’s executive committee in Budapest, Hungary. He was chosen by European clubs and accepted by UEFA last year while still a suspect for bribery.

Federal prosecutors originally linked the purchase of an $8 million villa in Porto Cervo, and Valcke’s use of it until he was suspended in 2015, to beIN and FIFA sealing a World Cup rights deal without rival bids.

The Doha-based broadcaster renewed its Middle East and North Africa rights for two more tournaments in 2026 and 2030. In the football and TV industry, it was seen as a good deal for FIFA with beIN paying above the then-market value.

The bribery allegation against al-Khelaifi ended when FIFA withdrew its formal criminal complaint in January as part of a seven-figure financial settlement.

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Last Update: Friday, 11 September 2020 KSA 19:48 - GMT 16:48
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