FIFA on trial as Valcke, Al-Khelaifi trial begins in Swiss court
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FIFA's disgraced former secretary general Jerome Valcke and Paris Saint-Germain chief Nasser Al-Khelaifi go on trial in Switzerland on Monday in the latest chapter of football's seemingly endless corruption saga.
The two men have been indicted for alleged corruption in the attribution of football broadcasting rights -- Al-Khelaifi is also the boss of beIN Media.
The hearing, which has already been delayed because of the coronavirus, is scheduled to last until September 25 at the Federal Criminal Court of Bellinzona. But it will open under another cloud as suspicions of collusion between the Swiss prosecution and FIFA have undermined its credibility.
Centre stage is Valcke, former right-hand man of ousted FIFA president Sepp Blatter, who appears in two separate cases of television rights corruption -- he faces up to five years in prison if found guilty.
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 the Qatari giant 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, 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.
- 'Corruption' -
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".
An employee at the time, the obligation to return money received in the course of his duties "also applies to bribes", according to a decision in March.
Al-Khelaifi, one of the most influential men in world football, faces the charge of "inciting Valcke to commit aggravated criminal mismanagement", for which he could also face five years in prison.
"The major part of this file does not concern our client," his lawyers told AFP while dismissing the charges against him as "clearly artificial".
Al-Khelaifi denies buying the property in question or promising it to Valcke.
- Case weakened -
Valcke, who will be at the hearing, 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 favour 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 in exchange, "disputes the charges", according to his lawyer Patrick Hunziker.
The case has been weakened by accusations of collusion born of three secret meetings in 2016 and 2017 between the current president of FIFA, Gianni Infantino, and Switzerland's former Attorney General Michael Lauber.
Both are under investigation for "obstructing criminal proceedings" -- Lauber resigned from his post in July.
If the hearing runs its course, it will be the first judgement handed down in Switzerland, the seat of most international sports organisations, on the 20 or so proceedings opened in the last five years surrounding FIFA.
© 2020 AFP