- Associated Press - Friday, September 11, 2020

GENEVA (AP) - In Switzerland’s federal criminal court on Monday, Nasser al-Khelaifi will become the first Qatari to stand trial almost six years after FIFA asked prosecutors to investigate the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bidding contests.

Al-Khelaifi, the president of Champions League finalist Paris Saint-Germain and chairman of Qatar-owned broadcaster beIN Media Group, is charged with inciting a former top FIFA official to commit “aggravated criminal mismanagement.”

Prosecutors have implicated al-Khelaifi in providing exclusive use of a luxury villa on the Italian island of Sardinia to the official - former FIFA secretary general Jérôme Valcke.

The 46-year-old al-Khelaifi has been the focus of a broader case opened in 2017 even if the most serious charges are faced separately by the other two defendants in a trial slated to last two weeks in Bellinzona.

Valcke and marketing agency executive Dinos Deris are implicated in bribery linked to World Cup broadcast rights deals for Greece and Italy that did not involve the Qatari or beIN.

“The vast majority of this case does not relate to our client in any way,” al-Khelaifi’s team of lawyers from Switzerland and England said in a statement.

The trial opens just three weeks after al-Khelaifi was seen by a global TV audience on the field at the Champions League final in Lisbon for the trophy and medals ceremony. He was consoling PSG’s players after their 1-0 loss to Bayern Munich.

Al-Khelaifi is widely seen as representing the Qatari state. The former tennis professional is a close friend of the Emir, a minister without portfolio in the national government, and visible sign of the 2022 World Cup host nation’s influence on European soccer.

On Sept. 24, during the scheduled second week in court, al-Khelaifi would have been due to attend a meeting of European soccer body UEFA’s executive committee in Budapest, Hungary. He was chosen by European clubs and accepted by UEFA last year while still a suspect for bribery.

Federal prosecutors originally linked the purchase of an $8 million villa in Porto Cervo, and Valcke’s use of it until he was suspended in 2015, to beIN and FIFA sealing a World Cup rights deal without rival bids.

The Doha-based broadcaster renewed its Middle East and North Africa rights for two more tournaments in 2026 and 2030. In the soccer and TV industry, it was seen as a good deal for FIFA with beIN paying above the then-market value.

The bribery allegation against al-Khelaifi ended when FIFA withdrew its formal criminal complaint in January as part of a seven-figure financial settlement.

Announcing indictments in February, Swiss prosecutors called that “an unspecified ‘amicable agreement’” and instead imposed the incitement charge. That related to Valcke unlawfully enriching himself and not reporting it to FIFA, prosecutors said.

Al-Khelaifi’s lawyers said Friday the lesser charge is “manifestly artificial and lacks basis in law or fact. We have no doubt that our client will be proven innocent.”

A verdict from the three federal judges is expected late October.

The trial has arisen from Swiss prosecutors having access to FIFA business and staff correspondence since being i nvited in by soccer’s world body in November 2014.

Valcke was suspended from duty in 2015 and later banned by FIFA’s ethics committee. He is serving a 10-year ban for conduct not connected to the upcoming trial.

He is charged with bribery — allegedly taking three kickbacks totaling 1.25 million euros ($1.48 million) to steer World Cup rights toward favored broadcasters in Italy and Greece — and falsification of documents, for booking payments to his private company as loans.

The French former television presenter, who hosted FIFA’s glitzy World Cup draw shows and coordinated organizing the 2010 and 2014 tournaments, declined to comment on the trial to The Associated Press.

Deris, also known as Konstantinos Nteris, did not respond to a request for comment at his agency in Athens.

The original target for Swiss investigators was money laundering and suspicious cash transfers during bidding contests for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. Russia and Qatar were picked in December 2010 by a FIFA executive committee that was later widely discredited.

None of the FIFA voters from 10 years ago has been charged in Switzerland - German soccer great Franz Beckenbauer was not indicted for health reasons ahead of a trial that collapsed in April.

That case, into a suspect payment trail linking German organizers of the 2006 World Cup, FIFA and other soccer industry officials, failed partly because of problems holding a trial so close to northern Italy during the coronavirus pandemic.

Still, Swiss prosecutors were criticized for waiting so long to bring the case that a statute of limitations for evidence expired.

For Monday’s trial opening, the three defendants — who live in Qatar, Spain and Greece — are expected to be exempt from travel and quarantine limitations.


More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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