BELLINZONA, Switzerland: Paris Saint-Germain president Nasser Al-Khelaifi and FIFA’s former secretary general Jerome Valcke went on trial in Switzerland on Monday accused of corruption in the attribution of World Cup TV rights.
The two men, who each face up to five years in prison if found guilty, are expected to give evidence Tuesday from 10:30 am (0830 GMT) at the Federal Court of Bellinzona, providing the three judges decide to continue the hearing.
The trial opened under another cloud as the defense claims suspicions of collusion between the Swiss prosecution and FIFA undermine its credibility.
On Monday, the defense opened by claiming the trial was “muddied” by the revelation of informal meetings between former Swiss attorney general Michael Lauber and current FIFA president Gianni Infantino.
Lauber resigned from his post in July and both men are under investigation for “obstructing criminal proceedings.”
Cristina Castellote, one of the prosecutors, said the complaints “have no influence on the validity” of the evidence in the trial in Bellinzona.
Al-Khelaifi, who is also chairman of Qatar-owned broadcaster beIN Media, is charged with inciting Valcke to commit “aggravated criminal mismanagement.”
The trial, which has already been delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic, is scheduled to last until Sept. 25.
If the trial runs its course, it will be the first judgment handed down in Switzerland, the seat of most international sports organizations, on the 20 or so proceedings opened in the last five years surrounding FIFA.
Valcke, who until 2015 was the right-hand man of now ousted FIFA president Sepp Blatter, faces the bulk of the charges linked to two separate cases of television rights corruption.
The 59-year-old Frenchman stands accused of wanting to transfer the Middle East and North Africa rights for screening the 2026 and 2030 World Cups to beIN Media, in exchange for “unwarranted benefits” from Al-Khelaifi.
According to the prosecution, the case relates to a meeting on October 24, 2013 at the French headquarters of beIN, when Al-Khelaifi allegedly promised to buy a villa in Sardinia for five million euros ($5.9 million), granting its exclusive use to Valcke.
Al-Khelaifi, who has denied the charges, was then to hand the property over to the Frenchman two years later under certain conditions.
In return, the prosecution claims, Valcke committed to “do what was in his power” to ensure beIN would become the regional broadcaster for the two World Cups, something which happened on April 29, 2014, in an agreement that FIFA has never since contested.
Legally, however, it is no longer a question of “private corruption.” The prosecution had to drop that qualification because of an “amicable agreement” reached at the end of January between FIFA and Al-Khelaifi, the contents of which have not been made public.
So Valcke must now justify having “kept for himself” advantages “which should have gone to FIFA.”
Al-Khelaifi, who as president of this year’s beaten Champions League finalists PSG is one of the most influential men in world football, faces a charge of “inciting Valcke to commit aggravated criminal mismanagement.”
“The major part of this file does not concern our client,” Khelaifi’s lawyers have told AFP, describing the charges against him as “clearly artificial.”
Al-Khelaifi denies buying the property in question or promising it to Valcke.
Valcke also stands accused of exploiting his position at FIFA between 2013 and 2015 to influence the awarding of media rights for Italy and Greece for various World Cup and other tournaments scheduled between 2018 and 2030 “in order to favor media partners that he preferred” in exchange for payments from Greek businessman Dinos Deris, who has also been charged.
Valcke, who allegedly stood to receive 1.25 million euros ($1.5 million) in exchange, “disputes the charges,” his lawyer Patrick Hunziker says.