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LAUSANNE: French former FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke arrives at the Court of Arbitration for Sport prior to his appeal against the 10-year ban on Thursday.—AFP
LAUSANNE: French former FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke arrives at the Court of Arbitration for Sport prior to his appeal against the 10-year ban on Thursday.—AFP

ZURICH: Swiss prosecutors said on Thursday they had opened a criminal investigation into former FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valcke and Nasser Al-Khelaifi, chief executive of Qatar’s beIN Media, focused on corruption linked to World Cup broadcasting rights.

Barry Bercke, Valcke’s US lawyer, declined to comment. Representatives in Qatar and Paris for beIN did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The Swiss Office of the Attorney General (OAG) said it had begun the investigation in March into Valcke, Al-Khelaifi — who is also CEO and chairman of Paris St Germain — and an unnamed businessman in the sports-rights sector.

They were under suspicion of bribery, fraud, criminal mismanagement and forgery, the OAG said.

Prosecutors interviewed Valcke on Thursday, while authorities in France, Greece, Italy and Spain searched properties in various locations, the OAG said.

It cited cooperation from a European Union criminal investigation agency.

“Multiple premises were searched, assets were seized and interviews were conducted as a result of this joint operation,” the EU body known as Eurojust said in a statement.

French prosecutors said they had searched beIN’s offices in Paris on Thursday.

In Greece, a judicial source said: “today, prosecutors participated in searches at residences. The operation is led by Swiss authorities”.

“It is suspected that Jerome 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 OAG said.

The 2018 and 2022 World Cup will be played in Russia and Qatar respectively, while the 2026 and 2030 tournaments have not yet been awarded.

The OAG had already said last year that Valcke was suspected of criminal mismanagement and other offences. He has denied any wrongdoing.

Valcke, a French national, was in Switzerland on Wednesday arguing an appeal at the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne, where he was trying to overturn his 10-year ban from football over graft.

Zurich-based FIFA, the global football body, has been trying to overhaul its operations in the wake of the worst crisis in its history, sparked in 2015 by the indictment in the United States of several dozen football officials on corruption-related charges.

FIFA said on Thursday it “fully supports the investigation” by Swiss and other authorities.

“FIFA has constituted itself as a damaged party in this investigation,” the Zurich-based organisation said.

Published in Dawn, October 13th, 2017