GENEVA (AP)Paris Saint-Germain president Nasser al-Khelaifi was acquitted in Switzerland on Friday for a second time in a retrial of alleged wrongdoing linked to former FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke.
Al-Khelaifi was cleared again of a charge of incitement to commit aggravated criminal mismanagement for allowing Valcke to use a vacation home in Sardinia rent free. Prosecutors tried to link the home, bought by a Qatari company in 2013, to Al-Khelaifi-led broadcaster beIN Media Group getting a renewed World Cup rights deal from FIFA.
Valcke, who was FIFA’s top administrator for eight years until being removed in 2015, was acquitted again of criminal mismanagement and convicted on separate charges not involving Al-Khelaifi. They relate to taking kickbacks in negotiations for World Cup broadcast rights in Italy and Greece.
The Swiss federal criminal court found Valcke guilty of repeated forgery and passive corruption. He was given a longer suspended sentence – 11 months instead of three – than he received after the original trial in September 2020.
Lawyers for Valcke said in a statement he would appeal and ”the guilty verdict is therefore in no way final.”
A third defendant, Greek marketing executive Dinos Deris, was convicted of active corruption and given a 10-month suspended sentence after first being acquitted in 2020. He was again cleared of inciting Valcke to mismanagement against FIFA’s interests.
The sentences for Valcke and Deris were both suspended for probationary periods of two years.
The retrial was held in March at the Swiss federal criminal court after prosecutors appealed against the original verdicts.
Al-Khelaifi’s second acquittal was hailed by his legal team as ”total vindication.”
”The years of baseless allegations, fictitious charges and constant smears have been proven to be completely and wholly unsubstantiated – twice,” lawyer Marc Bonnant said in a statement.
During a five-year investigation, Al-Khelaifi, who is also a member of the World Cup host nation’s government, rose in power and status in European soccer.
Despite being a suspect in Swiss criminal proceedings, Al-Khelaifi was elected in 2019 to join the UEFA executive committee and now leads the influential European Club Association after PSG refused to join the failed Super League project last year.
The prosecution case against Al-Khelaifi focused on beIN’s renewal of World Cup rights in the Middle East and North Africa with FIFA around the time the Italian villa was bought.
Lawyers for Al-Khelaifi argued beIN’s deal for the 2026 and 2030 World Cups, said in court to be worth $480 million in total, was good for FIFA.
While often using the vacation home from 2013 to 2015, Valcke also oversaw FIFA-led talks to move the 2022 World Cup in Qatar from June and July to the cooler months of November and December. FIFA was also awaiting, then dealing with the fallout from, its ethics committee’s investigation into the 2018-2022 World Cup bidding contests.
The charges proven against Valcke related to filing three payments totaling 1.25 million euros ($1.32 million) to his personal company’s accounts as loans.
However, the three appeal court judges withdrew an order made in 2020 for Valcke to pay FIFA 1.75 million euros ($1.84 million) in restitution.
”Mr. Valcke did not harm FIFA and his full acquittal on the counts of mismanagement has therefore logically been confirmed,” his legal firm, Geneva-based RVMH Attorneys, said in a statement. ”Just as logically, the criminal justice system has now rejected FIFA’s civil claims.”
FIFA declined comment until studying the judges’ written verdict which the court has said will likely not be published before September.
Valcke’s convictions were announced in the same week that former FIFA president Sepp Blatter was on trial in the same Bellinzona courthouse in a separate case. Blatter and former UEFA president Michel Platini faced fraud, forgery and financial misconduct charges.
Verdicts are due on July 8 in that case, which relates to a Blatter-approved FIFA payment of 2 million Swiss francs ($2 million) to Platini in 2011.
Blatter and Valcke are still suspects in a separate Swiss criminal proceeding that also involves former FIFA finance director Markus Kattner, That case is about a $1 million FIFA payment to the Trinidad and Tobago soccer federation in 2010.
Al-Khelaifi has also been under investigation by financial prosecutors in Paris for payments linked to Qatari bids to host the track and field world championships, which were staged in Doha in 2019.
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