Nasser al-Khelaifi, a Qatari businessman who has grown to become one of the most prominent figures in soccer, was accused by the Swiss authorities on Thursday of bribing the former FIFA general secretary Jérôme Valcke in return for lucrative World Cup soccer contracts.
Khelaifi, a leading figure in Qatar’s multibillion-dollar push into global sports, is the chairman of the Paris St.-Germain soccer team and the chief executive of the beIN Media Group, a Doha-based television network that the Swiss accuse of bribing Valcke, who is currently serving a 10-year ban from world soccer.
In its statement, the Swiss attorney general’s office said it had opened a case in March 2017 against Khelaifi, Valcke and an unidentified businessman on suspicion of bribery, fraud and criminal mismanagement.
“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 statement said.
A spokesman for beIN Media Group, which has spent billions of dollars acquiring sports rights in recent years, did not immediately reply to a request for comment. Neither did Valcke, who was questioned as a suspect in the case on Thursday. Valcke also has been under investigation by the Swiss since March 2016 on “suspicion of various acts of criminal mismanagement.”
The Swiss have been cooperating with the authorities in France, Greece, Italy and Spain, where “properties were searched in various locations,” the statement said.
News of the investigation of Valcke and Khelaifi is only the latest blow to world soccer, an industry that has been in the grip of a crisis since United States authorities in May 2015 announced a wide-ranging indictment that charged some of the sport’s biggest power brokers with involvement in a corruption scheme that dated back more than two decades.
Valcke has not been charged in the United States case, though he was removed from office along with his longtime boss Sepp Blatter, the former FIFA president, and dozens of other top officials.
FIFA released a statement that said the organization “fully supports the investigation conducted by the Swiss Office of the Attorney General as well as the other involved authorities that has become public today.”
“FIFA has constituted itself as a damaged party in this investigation, in line with the applicable provisions of Swiss procedural law,” the statement said. “No further comments can be made by FIFA at this stage in view of the fact that the investigation by the authorities is ongoing.”
Switzerland’s attorney general is investigating at least 180 reports of suspected money laundering in connection with 25 continuing soccer-related investigations that have begun since the United States indictments became public.
Television contracts, and bribes and kickbacks, are at the center of the United States investigation. The Brazilian television executive Jose Hawilla has admitted to authorities that he paid millions of dollars in bribes to soccer leaders across the Americas to secure rights to major events, including South America’s biggest club and national team tournaments.
Valcke, before he left FIFA, also helped quietly broker a no-bid agreement to award the American rights to the 2026 World Cup to Fox Sports. While rivals were furious when that deal became public, neither Valcke nor Fox Sports has been accused of wrongdoing.
Much of the crisis can be linked to the controversial decision in 2010 by FIFA’s governing executive committee to pick Russia and Qatar as hosts of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups after a bidding race that was troubled by accusations of corruption.
Qatar, a tiny desert-state without a discernible soccer culture, but home to the world’s third largest natural gas reserves, defeated a bid from the United States in a final round of voting. Several of the men who took part in that vote have either been charged or remain under investigation by the authorities in the United States, Switzerland and France.