By Joshua Franklin
ZURICH (Reuters) - Swiss prosecutors said on Thursday they had opened a criminal investigation into former FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valcke and Nasser Al-Khelaifi, chief executive of Qatar's beIN Media, focused on corruption linked to World Cup broadcasting rights.
Barry Bercke, Valcke's U.S. lawyer, declined to comment. Representatives in Qatar and Paris for beIN did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The Swiss Office of the Attorney General (OAG) said it had begun the investigation in March into Valcke, Al-Khelaifi - who is also CEO and chairman of Paris Saint-Germain soccer team - and an unnamed businessman in the sports-rights sector.
They were under suspicion of bribery, fraud, criminal mismanagement and forgery, the OAG said.
Prosecutors interviewed Valcke on Thursday, while authorities in France, Greece, Italy and Spain searched properties in various locations, the OAG said.
French prosecutors said they had searched beIN's offices in Paris on Thursday. In Greece, a judicial source said: "today, prosecutors participated in searches at residences. The operation is led by Swiss authorities."
"It is suspected that Jerome Valcke accepted undue advantages from a businessman in the sports-rights sector in connection with the award of media rights for certain countries at the FIFA World Cups in 2018, 2022, 2026 and 2030 and from Nasser Al-Khelaifi in connection with the award of media rights for certain countries at the FIFA World Cups in 2026 and 2030," the OAG said.
The OAG had already said last year that Valcke was suspected of criminal mismanagement and other offences. He has denied any wrongdoing.
Zurich-based FIFA, the global soccer body, has been trying to overhaul its operations in the wake of the worst crisis in its history, sparked in 2015 by the indictment in the United States of several dozen soccer officials on corruption-related charges.
(Additional reporting by Nate Raymond in New York, Alexander Cornwell in Dubai, Emmanual Jarry in Paris and Renee Maltezou in Athens; Editing by Michael Shields/Jeremy Gaunt)