October 13, 2017 / 11:19 AM / 6 days ago

Soccer: Valcke denies receiving 'undue advantages' from Al-Khelaifi

FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke attends a news conference during his visit to Samara, one of the 2018 World Cup host cities, Russia, June 10, 2015. REUTERS/Maxim Zmeyev/File Photo

PARIS (Reuters) - Former FIFA general secretary Jerome Valcke has denied receiving “undue advantages” from Nasser Al-Khelaifi, the chief executive of Qatar’s beIN Media and president of Paris St Germain, after Swiss prosecutors opened a criminal investigation.

The Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland (OAG) said on Thursday it suspected Valcke accepted “undue advantages” from Al-Khelaifi in connection with the award of media rights for the 2026 and 2030 World Cups.

On Friday, world soccer’s governing body FIFA said they were opening an investigation into the issues raised by the Swiss probe.

Italian finance police said they had seized a villa in Sardinia worth seven million euros ($8.3 million) which Swiss prosecutors believed was made available to Valcke by Al-Khelaifi as a bribe to try to secure the media rights.

The villa was seized from an unnamed international property company in connection with crimes including fraud, corruption and forging documents, the finance police from the Sardinian city of Sassari said in a statement.

It followed an investigation led by the Swiss police, which also involved investigators in France, Greece, Italy and Spain.

“I just want to say that it’s not true. I have never done that. I have never received anything in exchange for anything,” Valcke told French sports daily L‘Equipe on Friday.

“I refute the accusations against me or Nasser. I have received nothing from Nasser, I can assure you. There was never any exchange between Nasser and I. Never.”

Valcke was Sepp Blatter’s right-hand man when the latter ran FIFA, the Swiss-based world soccer body.

BeIN Media denied any wrongdoing on Thursday and said it was cooperating with officials. But a spokesman at France’s financial prosecutor’s office on Friday said beIN’s cooperation was “minimal.” BeIN staff “refused the downloading of data from servers based in Doha,” the spokesman said.

Valcke is serving a 10-year ban from football after he was found guilty by FIFA’s former ethics judge Hans-Joachim Eckert of misconduct over the sale of World Cup tickets, abuse of travel expenses, attempting to sell TV rights below their market value and destruction of evidence.

After being sacked from his post in January 2016, he was initially banned for 12 years, which was reduced to 10 by FIFA’s own appeal committee last June. He has denied wrongdoing and is now appealing at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).

On Friday, a FIFA spokesman said they would be looking into the issues raised by the OAG probe.

“We can confirm that the Investigatory Chamber of the independent Ethics Committee will initiate a preliminary investigation into the matter,” the spokesman said.

Reporting by Julien Pretot; Additional reporting by Joshua Franklin, Gavin Jones, Ingrid Melander; Editing by Toby Davis, Christian Radnedge and Rex Gowar

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