Bern (Switzerland) (AFP) – Swiss prosecutors on Wednesday began grilling Paris Saint-Germain president and beIN Media chief Nasser al-Khelaifi over allegations that he obtained World Cup media rights by bribing a top FIFA executive.
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.
“We began the interrogation of the accused person at about 9:45 am (0745) this morning here at the Office of the Attorney general of Switzerland (OAG)”, prosecution spokesman Andre Marty said.
“It will take hours due to translation issues but also due to the many questions we have and we are looking forward to the answers of the accused person”, he added.
Khelaifi, 43, and his legal team avoided the main entrance when entering the OAG headquarters in the Swiss capital and 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,
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.
But despite Khelaifi’s eagerness to be questioned, his case may still move slowly as Switzerland has a track record of taking its time with major corruption probes.
Bern opened an investigation targeting ex-FIFA boss Blatter in September 2015, but there are no indications that the case is ready for court.
– Luxury villa –
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 favourable treatment.
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 raised 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 seven million euros ($8.3 million), is owned by an international real estate agency.
– ‘Nothing from Nasser’ –
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, Khelaifi oversaw PSG’s 222 million-euro ($264 million) world record signing of Brazilian superstar Neymar in August.
PSG, who were bought by Qatar Sports Investments in 2011, are 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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