GENEVA — A former high-ranking FIFA official was convicted Friday in a corruption case in Switzerland, while the Qatari president of Paris Saint-Germain was acquitted.
Jérôme Valcke was found guilty of a lesser change of forging documents linked to kickbacks from World Cup broadcasting deals in Italy and Greece. He filed three payments totalling 1.25 million euros ($1.45 million) to his personal company's accounts as loans.
The French official was acquitted of accepting bribes and criminal mismanagement against the interests of FIFA, where he was secretary general from 2007-15.
Valcke was given a 120-day suspended sentence instead of three years requested by prosecutors. He was ordered to pay FIFA 1.75 million euros ($2 million) in restitution and 80,000 Swiss francs ($87,000) in costs.
PSG president Nasser al-Khelaïfi, who is also a television executive and a member of Qatar's government, was cleared of a single charge of inciting Valcke to commit aggravated criminal mismanagement.
That charge was linked to Valcke’s rent-free use of a vacation home in Italy. The court said in a statement that the property was bought in December 2013 by a Qatari company set up for the purpose of the purchase with al-Khelaïfi's help.
At the time, FIFA was renewing World Cup rights in the Middle East and North Africa for Qatari broadcaster beIN Media Group, which is led by al-Khelaïfi.
The judges ruled that the deal for the 2026 and 2030 tournaments — said at the trial last month to be worth $480 million — was “very advantageous from an economic point of view.”
Valcke, therefore, had not damaged FIFA's interests, according to the judges in a statement published by the court.
“Today’s verdict is a total vindication,” al-Khelaïfi said in a statement. “It restores my faith in the rule of law and in due process, after four years of baseless allegations, fictitious charges and constant smears of my reputation.”
Al-Khelaïfi, who is also a member of the UEFA executive committee, was not linked to the bribery charge against Valcke.
He could have faced his own bribery charge but it was dropped this year when FIFA withdrew that aspect of its criminal complaint. FIFA reached a financial settlement with al-Khelaifi before prosecutors published indictments in February.
A third defendant, Greek marketing agency executive Dinos Deris, was acquitted on charges of active corruption with Valcke and inciting him in relation to the Greek and Italian rights deals.
However, the three federal judges in Bellinzona said the three defendants should bear the costs of the court and their legal defence .
Valcke's conviction, albeit on a minor charge, is the first secured by the Swiss prosecutors who began investigating FIFA and international soccer officials six years ago.
“The OAG (Office of the Attorney General) awaits the written reasons for judgment in order to decide on any further action,” the federal prosecution office said in a statement.
Details of the judges' verdict are typically published by the federal criminal court after several weeks.
The case cast light on Valcke's working methods as the right-hand man to former president Sepp Blatter before he was suspended then fired.
The restitution awarded to FIFA amounts to the kickback payments plus a deposit of about 500,000 euros ($582,000) Valcke paid for the luxury villa that was reimbursed to him.
He remains a suspect in a separate Swiss criminal proceeding that involves Blatter and his former deputy, Markus Kattner, who was also the FIFA finance director until 2016.
That investigation involves a $1 million payment to the Trinidad and Tobago soccer federation in 2010.
Valcke, then secretary general, was FIFA's point man for the 2015 Women's World Cup in Canada. He was the top FIFA official at the World Cup draw in December 2014 in Gatineau, Que., and was the chief spokesman for soccer's world governing body on the legal challenge to the use of artificial turf at the tournament.
But he skipped the opening news conference of the tournament due to the ongoing FIFA scandal that later enveloped him.
Al-Khelaïfi is also under investigation by financial prosecutors in Paris for payments linked to Qatari bids to host the track and field world championships, which were staged in Doha last year.
Only Valcke was in court to hear the verdicts. Al-Khelaïfi was excused to avoid going into quarantine after leaving Switzerland, and Deris also had not attended the two-week trial for health reasons.
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Graham Dunbar, The Associated Press