By Tony Attwood
The British media, alone in most of Europe, have studiously ignored the dramatic series of court cases that have been engulfing world football – probably because they are having difficulty reconciling what we have discovered with all that has been said before.
But today Fifa is going to find out, any minute now, what the Federal Criminal Court of Bellinzona is going to rule in the case of Fifa, Al-Khelaïfi and Valcke. Of course this is only the start – we haven’t got to Infantino yet, but that will come as surely as media blindness follows media blindness.
Today, two key figures in world football now risk imprisonment: the boss of beIN Sports and PSG Nasser Al-Khelaïfi, and ex-Fifa number 2 Jérôme Valcke.
And that is just that bit embarassing for the British media and the FA and the Premier League because they all got mightily agitated about the sale of Newcastle to Saudi Arabia, on the grounds that Saudi Arabia was the home of duplicitous dealings over TV rights. TV rights that had been sold to beIN Sports. If it turns out that the head of beIN Sports has been doing naughty things, then that whole argument about not allowing a Saudi group in, starts to crumble. Unless of course, all the contracts between the Premier League and beIN Sports are going to be cancelled overnight.
In the cases being concluded today, the prosecution requested 28 months imprisonment against Nasser Al-Khelaïfi, who will not attend the trial because of health restrictions, three years against Jérôme Valcke and 30 months against a third defendant, Dinos Deris, with a partial suspension in the three case.
Jérôme Valcke is the former right-hand man of the now long departed Sepp Blatter of Fifa. Mr Valcke is accused of having concluded a pact with Nasser Al-Khelaïfi behind his employer’s back. In Swiss law that is “unfair management” punishable by five years in prison.
The prosecution showed that Jérôme Valcke supported beIN in exchange for “the exclusive use” of a luxury villa on the Sardinian coast, bought for him 5 million euros at the end of 2013 by a company briefly owned by Nasser Al-Khelaïfi.
The former secretary general of Fifa admitted to having requested the assistance of the Qatari leader to finance the “Villa Bianca”, a few months before the signing a contract in in April 2014 between beIN and the football body relating to the rights in North Africa and the Middle East for the 2026 and 2030 world cups.
But for the defendants, who each plead not guilty, say the two episodes have nothing to do with each other. They were private arrangements with no bribes involves. Besides, they say, beIN was the only bidder in contention, and yet they paid a very high amount for the rights, a sum of which Fifa has never complained.
And the reason they did this, they imply, was to become a global giant in the world of sports rights, spending $480 million for two World Cups, 60% more than for the 2018 and 2022 Worlds Cups.
The defense of Nasser Al-Khelaïfi is charged with “the instigation of unfair management”. Meanwhile in a separate file but attached to the same hearing, Jérôme Valcke is accused of having received 1.25 million euros from Dinos Deris, in three payments from Liechtenstein, to promote the obtaining of media rights in Greece and Italy.
Fifa is now claiming “between 1.4 and 2.3 million euros” from its former secretary general for having benefited from “Villa Bianca” for 18 months. Fifa is also asking for 1.25 million euros from Jérôme Valcke and Dinos Deris.
Beyond the fate of the three defendants, this trial is an important milestone for the Swiss justice system. For many years no legal claim could be made against any officer of an international sports organization which had its HQ on Swiss soil. That rule was then eliminated from the Swiss legal code (you might recall Untold Arsenal making quite a thing about that, and once again the British media ignoring it).
Since then the Swiss have opened some twenty investigations concerning Fifa over the past five years. And we suspect there is more to come.
I’m sorry you can’t read about any of this in the British media (if you are in the UK) but we are trying to keep up with it on Untold.