PARIS • Paris Saint-Germain's Qatari president, Nasser Al-Khelaifi, is facing criminal charges of suspected bribery linked to World Cup broadcasting rights, it was announced by Swiss federal prosecutors on Thursday.
The investigation concerns alleged bribes offered to Jerome Valcke, the former Fifa secretary general, to award the 2026 and 2030 World Cup rights to the Qatari-owned beIN Media Group, of which Khelaifi is chairman.
Valcke is also facing a criminal investigation as part of a wider Swiss inquiry into the activities of Khelaifi and an unnamed businessman working in the sports-rights sector.
In a surprise announcement on Thursday, it was alleged that Valcke had received "undue advantages" from the businessman to award "media rights for certain countries" for four World Cups from 2018 through 2030.
The former right-hand man of Sepp Blatter, the disgraced former Fifa president, was questioned on Thursday. Properties were searched in France, Greece, Italy and Spain. Valcke has denied the allegations.
"I just want to say that it's not true. I have never done that. I have never received anything in exchange for anything," he told French sports daily L'Equipe yesterday.
"I refute the accusations against me or Nasser. I have received nothing from Nasser, I can assure you. There was never any exchange between Nasser and I. Never."
Khelaifi has become one of the most influential men in world football in the past few years through his role in PSG's development into a global superpower. The charges will raise further questions about the methods used by Qatar to win the 2022 World Cup, even though he was not an official member of the bid team.
He has been chairman of Qatar Sports Investment since 2011, with the investment fund buying PSG that year and spending heavily on transfers to establish the French club among the Champions League elite.
French anti-corruption investigators carried out searches of beIN Sports Paris headquarters on Thursday, although Khelaifi was not present. BeIN media has also denied any wrongdoing and said that it was cooperating with officials.
"Following a request by the office of the Attorney General of Switzerland (OAG), the beIN sports offices in Boulogne-Billancourt were searched this morning," the company said in a statement.
"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 co-operate with the authorities and is confident as to the future developments of this investigation."
PSG, who grabbed headlines in August for their signing of Brazilian superstar Neymar, are not implicated in the investigation.
The new probe is the latest in a complex web of scandals that have rocked world football over the last 21/2 years.
Dozens of corruption investigations are ongoing in Switzerland, the United States and elsewhere.
Many relate to the sale of broadcast and marketing rights, with Fifa insiders accused of taking kickbacks in exchange for sweetheart deals with broadcasters and promoters.
Fifa president Gianni Infantino, who took over from Blatter last year, has vowed to clean up the game.
THE TIMES, LONDON, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS