BeIN, Valcke deny wrongdoing amid World Cup rights probe

BeIN Media Group and former Fifa secretary general Jérôme Valcke have denied any wrongdoing after the office of the Swiss Attorney General (OAG) confirmed that it has opened a criminal proceeding against the Frenchman and Nasser Al-Khelaifi, chief executive of the broadcaster.

The proceeding relates to the award of media rights for the World Cup national team football tournament. In a statement, the office said that the investigation opened in March of this year, and representatives of the OAG interviewed Valcke (pictured) as a suspect in Switzerland yesterday (Thursday).

At the same time, in cooperation with authorities in France, Greece, Italy and Spain, a number of properties were searched on Thursday in a coordinated operation led by the Eurojust organisation, with the support of Fedpol police organisation and the judicial authorities in the various countries.

The investigation has also featured an unnamed “businessman in the sports rights sector” and focuses on allegations of “bribery of private individuals, fraud, criminal mismanagement and forgery of a document.”

“It is suspected that Jérôme Valcke accepted undue advantages from a businessman in the sports rights sector in connection with the award of media rights for certain countries at the Fifa World Cups in 2018, 2022, 2026 and 2030 and from Nasser Al-Khelaifi in connection with the award of media rights for certain countries at the Fifa World Cups in 2026 and 2030,” the OAG said.

In January 2011, Al Jazeera Sport acquired the rights to all major Fifa events, excluding the Club World Cup, between 2015 and 2022 in 23 territories across the Middle East and North Africa region. It was Fifa’s incumbent rights-holder in the region, having bought out the previous rights-holder ART in November 2009, and subsequently transformed into beIN Media Group.

The announcement came weeks after Qatar won the right to host the 2022 World Cup. Fifa has never announced if beIN also secured any 2026 and 2030 World Cup rights. In a statement, beIN said: “Following a request by the office of the Attorney General of Switzerland (OAG), the beIN Sports offices in Boulogne-Billancourt (France) were searched this (Thursday) morning.

“The employees on site cooperated with the authorities until the end of the search. beIN Media Group refutes all accusations made by OAG. The company will fully cooperate with the authorities and is confident as to the future developments of this investigation.”

Al-Khelaifi is also president of Qatari-owned French Ligue 1 club Paris Saint-Germain and is now one of the most influential figures in European football. Valcke this week appeared at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) as part of his appeal against his 10-year ban from football imposed by Fifa, citing a number of areas of misconduct, in June 2016.

Valcke left the OAG on Thursday evening after he was interviewed “as a suspect” by representatives of the Swiss attorney general and “disputes all the allegations”, his lawyer told the AFP news agency. “Mr. Valcke left the Swiss attorney general's offices where he was heard all day. He came out free, there is no coercive measure against him nor any bail payment,” his lawyer Stephane Ceccaldi said.

Fifa said on Thursday it “fully supports the investigation” by Swiss and other authorities. “Fifa has constituted itself as a damaged party in this investigation,” world football’s governing body said in a statement reported by the Associated Press news agency.

The OAG had already initiated a criminal proceeding against Valcke in March 2016 and the new proceeding was opened “primarily on the basis of findings obtained by the OAG in this earlier proceeding.”

The office clarified that “no one has been on remand… (and) the presumption of innocence applies.” The OAG said that it is conducting around 25 criminal proceedings in the series of football-related investigations.