New evidence of corruption has emerged over Qatar’s hosting of the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
A report by France’s Mediapart revealed that Paris St. Germain club President and BeIN Sports owner Nasser Al Khelaifi had bribed former number two at FIFA, Jerome Valcke.
In details, the report said that Al Khelaifi had organized the financing of a luxury villa for Valcke at the same time that a generous television contract was secured with the football governing body at a time when Qatar’s 2022 World Cup hosting was under threat.
The case dates back to October 2017. Since then Swiss authorities, who are leading this operation, have put Al Khelaifi and Valcke on trial for “private corruption”.
Mediapart reported that the Swiss Public Ministry of the Confederation (MPC) suspects Al Khelaifi to have financed Valcke’s Sardinia Villa Bianca simultaneously as another contract was being signed by the two men: the purchase of the World Cup rights for BeIN in a $480 million deal.
Documentation from the Swiss prosecutor seen by Mediapart alleges that Al Khelaifi’s initial plan was to gift Valcke the villa. However, Al Khelaifi eventually changed tact and bought it via a company register in Qatar, then resold it to a friend of his, who rented it to the FIFA Secretary General on some unusual terms.
Mediapart also alleges that there is a possible link between this series of events and the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, whose ability to win the bid was being investigated at the time for being corrupt by authorities in France, Switzerland and the United States.
French investigators are probing an alleged deal proposed by Al Khelaifi to FIFA just before the vote on December 2, 2010 in which BeIN promised to buy the TV rights for the World Cup for $300 million, plus an additional $100 million bonus if Qatar won the rights to the 2022 edition.
Swiss authorities are also interested in another corruption case linked to Al Khelaifi and Valcke. In November 2013, FIFA drafted a contract to sell BeIN Sports the TV rights for the World Cups in 2026 and 2030 for the Middle East, in exchange for $480 million. Valcke announced the news to FIFA’s Finance Committee on December 4.
There were several strange quirks to this contract. FIFA did not undergo a bidding process for these rights, which is common practice in order to incite a bidding war. Two sources close to FIFA have told Mediapart that it was also highly unusual to sell such rights more than 10 years in advance of the competitions actually taking place.
Generally, FIFA can earn more money by selling them closer to the time.
FIFA’s own lawyers, who reviewed the draft contract late in November 2013, pointed to the same thing, per Swiss prosecutorial documentation, citing “the very long duration of the agreement leaves us open to legal and regulatory risks.”
On top of that, there the highly elevated fee. The previous deal was $300 million for two earlier World Cups, plus a $100 million bonus if Qatar obtained the hosting country status for 2022. For the 2026 and 2030 competitions, such a bonus was of course not necessary as they had already won the rights to host in 2022.
The contract was ratified by FIFA’s Executive Committee on March 21, 2014. It was signed on behalf of Valcke himself and for BeIN Sports by Al Khelaifi. Two months later, Valcke signed a contract to loan the Villa Bianca. Coincidentally, FIFA shortly thereafter took two decisions in Qatar’s favor.
In September 2014, FIFA refused to publish the report on alleged corruption in the 2022 World Cup bidding process written by Michael Garcia, who resigned in December. Following this development, FIFA President Sepp Blatter pronounced that there was no reason to question the decision to give this World Cup to Qatar.
On February 24, 2015, a special committee recommended that the 2022 World Cup should be held in winter, a decision that was ratified seven months later. All very coincidental. Legal representation of all principal actors attest that no wrongdoing was committed. The Swiss prosecutor is not so sure.
Qatar continued to pamper Valcke – in February 2015, during a trip to Doha, he received a Cartier watch, worth €40,000, as a gift. Al Khelaifi’s lawyer claims that he had no part in this decision allegedly made by the Qatari government.
In September 2015, Valcke was suspended by FIFA. Per Mediapart, Valcke stopped renting the villa in the same year. Abdelkader Bessedik, Al Khelaifi’s friend, in March 2017 transferred the Golden Home Real Estate company from Qatari to Italian jurisdiction. After Valcke’s departure, it has since and continues to be rented to rich holidaymakers. But for two years between 2015 and 2017, Villa Bianca was empty.