Nasser Al-Khelaifi

FIFA anti-corruption
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FIFA open to help fund anti-corruption agency for sports

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VIENNA — FIFA would help fund a global agency to tackle corruption in sport, its president Gianni Infantino said Monday.

Creating a body like the World Anti-Doping Agency to address financial corruption, match-fixing and the influence of organized crime in sport has been talked about for more than a decade without a detailed proposal.

“We at FIFA are ready to invest in it,” Infantino said, suggesting “maybe the creation of such an agency would help make sport safe in the decades to come.”

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As Infantino spoke at a United Nations event in Austria, the corruption trial was opening in Switzerland of three men, including Qatari soccer and television executive Nasser al-Khelaifi and former FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke.

Their case arose from years-long American and Swiss investigations of suspected corruption in soccer that removed a generation of international leaders from office and helped lift Infantino to the FIFA presidency in 2016.

His funding pledge was made when signing a cooperation agreement between FIFA and the Vienna-based UN Office on Drugs and Crime, which connects international officials and programs.

Speakers at the event included diplomats from Russia and Qatar, winners of the 2018 and 2022 World Cup hosting votes in 2010 that FIFA later asked Swiss federal prosecutors to investigate.

No convictions have been secured in Switzerland, though criminal proceedings are also open against Infantino’s predecessor Sepp Blatter and former UEFA President Michel Platini for alleged mismanagement of FIFA funds not directly linked to World Cup bidding. They were questioned in the past two weeks.

“Never again. Never again corruption in football,” said Infantino, who is himself under investigation in Switzerland over meetings he had with then-attorney general Michael Lauber.

Lauber left office two weeks ago after being disciplined for failing to declare a June 2017 meeting with Infantino where he took no notes and misleading a subsequent internal investigation.

PSG willing to play Champions League home games abroad

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Paris Saint-Germain owner Nasser Al-Khelaifi was quick to respond after the French government outlawed football in France until September.

Al-Khelaifi said he respects the government’s decision and that he’ll bring PSG’s home matches outside of France when the UEFA Champions League restarts this summer.

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Ligue 1 and Ligue 2 are done for the season after the French government joined the Netherlands in canceling live sporting events for most of the summer.

PSG had already qualified for the quarterfinals by dismissing Borussia Dortmund. Here’s Al-Khelaifi:

“We respect the French government’s decision. In agreement with UEFA, we intend to participate in the final rounds of this season’s Champions’ League at the time and place at which it will be organised. If it is not possible to play in France, we will play our matches abroad with the assurance that we will place our players and all our staff in the best possible health conditions.”

PSG will have already planned for the possibility of playing all UCL matches at a neutral site, so this doesn’t change a ton.

What’s interesting, even comical, is how quickly PSG reacted to the news. Ligue 1 had long been relegated to a subplot with a 12-point table lead and a match-in-hand on second-place Marseille.

A cynic would say PSG won’t care much about domestic honors until they’ve laid claim to their European honors. Today did little to dissuade those in that mind frame.

Swiss court dismisses Al-Khelaifi bid to recuse prosecutors

Nasser al-Khelaifi
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GENEVA — Qatari soccer and television executive Nasser al-Khelaifi failed in a request to have three prosecutors recused from a case against him in Switzerland that is part of a wider bribery investigation of FIFA.

The Swiss federal criminal court published a ruling Wednesday which dismissed Al-Khelaifi’s complaint filed days after he was questioned last December.

The president of French champion Paris Saint-Germain and Doha-based broadcaster BeIN Media Group was charged in February with inciting FIFA’s former top administrator to commit aggravated criminal mismanagement.

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Al-Khelaifi avoided a charge of bribery when reaching an undisclosed settlement with FIFA in January to drop a criminal complaint linked to awarding World Cup broadcast rights to BeIN for 2026 and 2030.

The recusal request argued Al-Khelaifi was not given enough time under questioning on Dec. 6 to deal with all points he wanted to address. Al-Khelaifi’s lawyer said he was notified just three days later he would be charged, and prosecutors had “total disinterest” in taking full account of his defense.

A panel of three federal judges dismissed the complaint in a ruling dated March 24. It said Al-Khelaifi must pay 2,000 Swiss francs ($2,060).

Between Al-Khelaifi’s first round of questioning in October 2017 and last December, the lead prosecutor in the wider Swiss investigation of FIFA left his job despite being cleared of alleged misconduct linked to the soccer case.

Though Swiss prosecutors won the latest procedural ruling, their investigation has reportedly hit trouble. French daily Le Monde reported last month that a federal judge asked for more evidence to back up the charge against Al-Khelaifi.

Al-Khelaifi has denied wrongdoing. He became a member of European soccer body UEFA’s executive committee last year while under investigation.

He is implicated in providing former FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke with rent-free use of a luxury villa on the Italian island of Sardinia. Valcke faces charges including bribery and also denies wrongdoing.

BeIN has said the price it paid for 2026-2030 World Cup rights, reportedly close to 500 million euros ($540 million), showed no favorable deal was struck.

First trial in Swiss FIFA investigation opens in court Monday

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GENEVA — Five years into a sprawling investigation of soccer corruption, the first courtroom trial in Switzerland is due to begin on Monday in a 2006 World Cup fraud case.

Former FIFA president Sepp Blatter and German soccer great Franz Beckenbauer are listed by Switzerland’s federal criminal court to testify in the trial of four soccer officials implicated in a suspect 6.7 million euros ($7.6 million) payment.

Beckenbauer, as head of the German 2006 organizing committee, is a criminal suspect in the long-running investigation though was not indicted last August for health reasons and will not stand trial.

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Amid fears of the spreading coronavirus, it is likely most of the star witnesses and defendants will not come to court in Bellinzona, which is close to the border with northern Italy.

Blatter is scheduled to testify on Thursday, two days after he turns 84, by video link from Zurich where he lives, his spokesman, Thomas Renggli, said on Friday.

The defendants include three members of the 2006 World Cup organizing committee: Theo Zwanziger and Wolfgang Niersbach – who both served on FIFA’s executive committee after Beckenbauer – and Horst Schmidt.

The fourth is Urs Linsi, who was Blatter’s right-hand man as FIFA secretary general for five years from 2002.

Swiss federal prosecutors allege Linsi, Zwanziger and Schmidt jointly committed fraud and Niersbach was complicit in fraud by misleading the organizing committee’s oversight panel.

All deny wrongdoing in a case that centers on a complex money trail, claimed to be loans and repayments made in 2002 and 2005.

The payments connect Beckenbauer, Germany’s soccer federation, a FIFA bank account in Switzerland, one-time FIFA power broker Mohamed bin Hammam of Qatar, and Robert Louis-Dreyfus, the late former Adidas executive.

Louis-Dreyfus was a part owner of Swiss marketing agency Infront which acquired some World Cup television rights. He died in 2009. Another German soccer great and former Infront executive, Gunter Netzer, is listed to give evidence next Thursday.

The Swiss investigation was hampered by Qatar declining to help.

“The exact purpose of the total payments to Mohamed bin Hammam could not have been determined – also because a corresponding request for mutual legal assistance made by the (attorney general’s office) to the Qatari authorities in September 2016 remained unanswered until today,” Swiss federal prosecutors said last August when publishing indictments.

The case has tarnished the reputation of a World Cup that was a sporting and social success. It became known as Germany’s “Summer Fairytale” for restoring pride in national identity.

It is unclear if a scheduled three-week trial in Switzerland will provide resolution. There is also time pressure because a statute of limitations on the case is reached in late-April.

Though Blatter, FIFA president for 17 years, is only a witness in this case, a criminal proceeding was opened against him in 2015 for separate financial management issues. The allegation removed him from office but he denies wrongdoing and has never been charged.

Swiss prosecutors who have worked on at least 25 criminal proceedings linked to FIFA indicted three men last month, including Linsi’s successor as top administrator, Jerome Valcke.

Qatari television executive Nasser al-Khelaifi, who is also president of French champion Paris Saint-Germain, was charged with inciting Valcke to commit aggravated criminal mismanagement.

A bribery allegation against al-Khelaifi was dropped when FIFA reached a settlement deal with him in January to end a criminal complaint. He had been suspected of bribing Valcke with use of a luxury villa in Italy.

The federal prosecution office has also been through turmoil due to the FIFA probe. A senior prosecutor left in 2018 despite being cleared of alleged misconduct. Attorney general Michael Lauber was removed from the case last year by the Bellinzona court after secret meetings with FIFA president Gianni Infantino were revealed.

Switzerland’s investigation started with FIFA’s criminal complaint in November 2014 about suspected money laundering in the 2018-22 World Cup bidding contests, which were won by Russia and Qatar, respectively.

No charges have been announced directly connected to those World Cup campaigns.

Swiss prosecutors charge Al-Khelaifi in FIFA bribery case

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BERN, Switzerland — Paris Saint-Germain president Nasser al-Khelaifi was charged Thursday by Swiss federal prosecutors in connection with a wider bribery investigation linked to World Cup television rights.

The office of Switzerland’s attorney general filed an indictment charging Al-Khelaifi with inciting former FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke “to commit aggravated criminal mismanagement.”

Valcke was charged with accepting bribes, “several counts of aggravated criminal mismanagement and falsification of documents.”

A third person who was not identified was charged with bribery and also for inciting Valcke to commit aggravated criminal mismanagement.

Al-Khelaifi is the head of Qatari broadcaster BeIN Sports and also a member of the UEFA executive committee. He denied wrongdoing after being questioned in 2017 and 2019 in connection with criminal proceedings opened three years ago.