FIFA’s Former No. 2 Caught Up in Scandal Had $11 Million Debt

This content was published on September 16, 2020 - 16:42

(Bloomberg) -- A former FIFA official accused of accepting nearly $1.5 million in bribes told the Greek businessman accused of paying him the cash to delete most of their correspondence.

Jerome Valcke, FIFA’s former secretary general, sent the message to Dinos Deris in October 2016, six months before Swiss federal prosecutors opened a criminal investigation against the pair and a third businessman in March 2017.

“Dinos, I think you should delete all correspondence between us except the one related to FIBA or SportUnited but anything else, just trash,” Valcke wrote in an email presented as evidence on Wednesday at Switzerland’s Federal Criminal Court. SportUnited is Valcke’s company, which had consulting and advisory contracts with organizations including FIBA, the International Basketball Federation.

“I am a bit paranoiac these last months,” Valcke said in an separate email sent a minute later.

Asked about that during cross-examination on his second day of testimony, Valcke said he didn’t have anything to reproach himself about.

“I only wanted to make sure that those around me” who might get dragged into this unfairly “would be protected,” he said.

The trial is the first in Switzerland to shed light on how Valcke and other senior FIFA officials were striking deals for media rights to the soccer tournaments around the globe that earn FIFA hundreds of millions of dollars. The scale of the money flowing between the sport’s governing body and its business partners became public after American and Swiss prosecutors opened probes into corruption allegations at FIFA in 2015.

Earlier on Wednesday, Valcke told the court a 500,000-euro ($593,000) payment that he was accused of accepting as a bribe from the Greek businessman was actually a loan. Valcke said he needed help to cover more than 10 million Swiss francs ($11 million) in personal debt. He had previously told Swiss prosecutors during interviews in 2017 that his debts were closer to 4 million francs.

His bank, Credit Suisse Group AG, “wouldn’t give me a cent more,” Valcke told authorities in 2017 testimony read out in court Wednesday. “I don’t have a lot of people I can ask money from. I had to find someone who would lend me money, so I asked Dinos.”

Valcke was in the administration of FIFA head Joseph “Sepp” Blatter, who ended up resigning. Most of FIFA’s board was replaced after the bribery probes and a series of early morning raids in high-end hotels near its headquarters.

In April 2014, Valcke wrote to Deris, asking for a second loan after having secured an initial 500,000 euros.

“Hi Dinos, One question,” he wrote in the email shown as evidence to the court on Wednesday. “Long story short. I have to find 1 million euros !! Can you make me a loan payable back either next December on our future business.”

Valcke told the court his debts stemmed from the purchase of two homes in Switzerland worth 7 million francs as well as a 34-meter (112-foot) boat valued at more than 2 million francs. He also stands accused of aggravated criminal mismanagement related to his failure to tell FIFA about financial help he received to buy a third property, a villa in Sardinia.

Valcke told the court he rejected the allegation of bribery and had never accepted money, other than a loan from the Greek.

“I didn’t arrange a corrupt deal with Dinos Deris,” he said. Still, the court learned on Wednesday that Valcke was aware his behavior with Deris was viewed suspiciously.

In a February 2014, Valcke emailed Deris, saying he had been told that morning that some people “are asking questions about you and why I protect you.”

Deris is charged with bribery for 1.25 million euros he allegedly paid Valcke in exchange for favorable treatment of his bid for Greek and Italian media rights for 12 years of tournaments.

Deris isn’t attending the trial because he is unwell, said his lawyer Alec Reymond but the judges decided he will face prosecution in absentia. Reymond said the whole trial is flawed and argued unsuccessful that it should be delayed because of an ongoing scandal involving Swiss Attorney General Michael Lauber’s undocumented meetings with FIFA President Gianni Infantino.

Lauber resigned his post in July and is likely facing a criminal probe over the meetings he held with Infantino as part of his investigation into corruption at the organization. A specially-appointed prosecutor is already investigating Infantino.

FIFA has said the meetings were legitimate and legal. Lauber said he accepted a Swiss court’s sanction of him in July but “rejected the accusation of lying.”

Nasser Al-Khelaifi, chairman of BeIn Media Group, is accused of inciting Valcke to not tell FIFA about help he received from the Qatari to buy the Sardinian villa. At issue is whether Al-Khelaifi directly helped Valcke to buy the villa and use it for free given that BeIn Media was the sole bidder for the Middle Eastern media rights to the 2026 and 2030 World Cups.

A rental contract for the villa was signed by Abdelkader Bessedik, an associate of Al-Khelaifi, according to news reports. Al-Khelaifi is also chairman of Paris Saint-Germain, one of France’s biggest soccer teams.

The court on Wednesday was shown a BlackBerry Messenger message Valcke sent to his wife and an email he sent to the broker for the villa indicating that Al-Khelaifi was the buyer. Al-Khelaifi responded that he hadn’t sent the BlackBerry message to Valcke and had never spoken to the broker.

(Adds testimony from Nasser Al-Khelaifi at bottom of story)

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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