The report that Swiss prosecutors have opened a criminal investigation against Jerome Valcke, the banned former FIFA secretary general, and Nasser Al-Khelaifi, the head of Qatar’s beIN Media, isn’t just a stain on FIFA — the latest in a long list of scandals related to corruption in the handling of media rights deals — but it’s another problem for embattled Qatar, which is scheduled to host of the 2022 World Cup.
On top of that it is a potential black-eye for French soccer as Al-Khelaifi is the president of big-spending Paris St. Germain.
The Swiss Attorney General suspects Valcke of accepting “undue advantages” in connection with the award of media rights for the 2026 and 2030 World Cup competitions from Al-Khelaifi. Valcke, who is serving a 10-year ban from soccer, was also accused of accepting “undue advantages” from an unnamed businessman in connection with media rights for the 2018, 2022, 2026 and 2030 World Cups, Valcke and BeIN Media have denied any wrongdoing and were said to be cooperating with officials.
FIFA president Sepp Blatter and Valcke were forced out of their positions and dozens of soccer officials have been indicted or pleaded guilty in soccer corruption cases. On top of that, the New York Times reported that the Swiss AG office is investigating at least 180 reports of suspected money laundering in connection with 25 continuing soccer-related investigations. The Swiss have 220 people working on the cases.
The beIN Media Group is based in Doha and has media businesses around the world, including beIN Sports and Miramax in the United States. Amid charges of widespread vote-fixing, Qatar was controversially awarded the 2022 World Cup in 2010, though Al-Khelaifi is the first Qatari facing formal charges.
The 2022 World Cup has come under threat because of Qatar’s continued boycott by Gulf rivals Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain and Egypt in a diplomatic dispute over Qatar’s cooperation with Iran, among other things.
Qatar won the 2022 hosting rights over the favored USA in part because it convinced then-UEFA president Michel Platini to vote for it. Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy has been linked to Qatar’s World Cup winning bid. In the aftermath of the December 2010 vote, Qatar Sports Investments — owned by the state — bought Paris St. Germain and beIN Sport was launched in France.
BeIN Sport currently has 3.5 million subscribers in France but faces an uncertain future. It will lose UEFA Champions League rights in France next season to SFR Sport. The French league is about to conduct an auction for Ligue 1 rights, beginning in 2020, and beIN Sport is not only expected to face competition from long-time cable rival Canal-Plus and SFR Sport but American companies such as Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon seeking streaming rights.
Al-Khelaifi’s troubles come after a summer he orchestrated PSG’s record-breaking purchases of Neymar and Kylian Mbappe. They also follow those of Dmitry Rybolovlev, the Russian president of reigning French champion Monaco. He is accused of influencing police officers and members of the Monaco justice department in a case involving Frenchman Yves Bouvier whom Rybolovlev accused of fraud in an art deal.