Paris Saint-Germain president Nasser Al-Khelaifi questioned over World Cup broadcasting deal bribe
Paris Saint-Germain president Nasser Al-Khelaifi, a Qatari soccer and television executive, was subjected to a full day of questioning Wednesday by Swiss investigators who say he bribed a FIFA official in a World Cup broadcasting rights deal.
Al-Khelaifi met with Switzerland's federal prosecutors two weeks after they revealed criminal proceedings against him. He has denied wrongdoing and has not been charged.
The interview, translated into English, continued for several hours and a second session at a future date was possible, said Andre Marty, the spokesman for the Swiss attorney general's office.
"The world of football needs to be patient as for the results of this first interrogation," Marty said outside the federal building.
"There is huge complexity to the criminal proceeding, there are questions of translation, there are questions of the masses of information that needs to be proceeded and to give obviously to the suspected person a fair chance to answer according to his legal rights," he said.
Al-Khelaifi was not seen arriving for questioning, which began at 9:45 a.m. (0745 GMT). Around 12 people attended at least parts of the session, including a lawyer representing FIFA, Marty said.
As CEO of beIN Media Group — formerly Al Jazeera Sports — Al-Khelaifi secured TV rights across the Middle East and North Africa for four World Cups, including the 2022 tournament in Qatar.
Al-Khelaifi and former FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke are suspected of bribery, fraud, criminal mismanagement and document forgery linked to a 2026-2030 rights deal.
Key to the allegation is a luxury villa on the island of Sardinia that was seized two weeks ago.
Italian financial police say Al-Khelaifi allowed Valcke to use the property in Porto Cervo, which was valued at 7 million euros ($8.3 million). Italian police said the villa is officially owned by an international real estate company, and they questioned eight people.
Properties were searched on Oct. 12 in France, Greece, Italy, and Spain, including beIN's offices in Paris, while Valcke was questioned in Switzerland. He is already the subject of a separate Swiss criminal proceeding in a sprawling probe of suspected corruption linked to FIFA, international soccer leaders and World Cup hosting bids.
Al-Khelaifi's case is one of the most direct links to Qatar announced by federal law enforcement agencies in Switzerland, the United States, and France, who are cooperating on separate but linked investigations. American and French law enforcement agencies were not present Wednesday in Bern, Swiss federal spokesman Marty said.
The 43-year-old Al-Khelaifi is a close friend of Qatar's Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani. He was appointed to run PSG when it was bought by a Qatar sovereign wealth fund within months of FIFA picking Qatar as a World Cup host in December 2010.
PSG is not publicly implicated in the Swiss case.
Al-Khelaifi risks an interim ban from soccer duty by the FIFA ethics committee while investigations continue. FIFA has said its ethics investigators are making preliminary inquiries though no formal case has been opened.
Swiss prosecutors have been investigating FIFA and suspected money laundering linked to the 2018 and 2022 World Cup hosting contests since November 2014.
Criminal proceedings for suspected financial wrongdoing were first opened last year against Valcke, months after his emails were among evidence seized from FIFA. The former TV presenter from France was the CEO-like top official under then-FIFA president Sepp Blatter for more than eight years until he was fired in January 2016.
The separate proceeding against Al-Khelaifi and Valcke was opened in March. It was revealed only this month, one day after Valcke returned to Switzerland to testify at the Court of Arbitration for Sport in his appeal against a 10-year ban by FIFA.
The latest case also involves a third suspect — a "businessman in the sports rights sector" who has not been identified by Swiss prosecutors. That relates to giving Valcke "undue advantages" for the awarding of World Cup broadcast deals from 2018 through 2030.
Since the case against Al-Khelaifi was formally opened, his profile rose as PSG pursued and completed a world record transfer for Brazil striker Neymar from Barcelona for 222 million euros ($260 million).
PSG leads the French league and is looking for its first Champions League title. Al-Khelaifi has attended the team's games, in France and Belgium, since he was made a criminal suspect and consented to be interviewed in the Swiss capital.
Independent News Service