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Monday, May 30, 2011

Bin Hammam blasts FIFA decision to suspend him


One-time world soccer body FIFA presidential candidate Mohamed bin Hammam has blasted a decision by the body's ethics committee to suspend him alongside three other soccer officials on suspicion of bribery, charging that the committee had not applied fair play.

Mr. Bin Hammam, a Qatari national, said in a statement that he did not understand the logic the suspension given that the committee had not been found guilty of wrongdoing.

The committee is investigating bribery charges that Mr. Bin Hammam and the other officials had sought to buy the votes of members of the Caribbean Football Union for the Qatari’s presidential candidacy.

The committee said the suspension was not a verdict of innocent or guilty but was based on its conclusion that there was the appearance of an infringement of FIFA’s code of ethics. The officials were suspended until the committee completes a full investigation, probably in July.

The committee meanwhile pronounced FIFA president Sepp Blatter innocent of accusations that he had been aware of the alleged bribery and had not reported it.

Mr. Blatter is the sole candidate in FIFA presidential elections scheduled for Wednesday after Mr. Bin Hammam withdrew his candidacy hours before Sunday’s committee hearing. Mr. Blatter said after the committee decision through his spokesman that "I regret what has happened in the last few days and weeks. FIFA’s image has suffered a great deal as a result, much to the disappointment of FIFA itself and all football fans."

Mr. Blatter’s statement aimed to prevent the scandal and the on-going investigation from persuading a majority of FIFA members to postpone the FIFA presidential election because of the corruption scandal.

In his statement, Mr. Bin Hammam said: "I have been referred to the Ethics Committee based on evidence which was strong enough in the views of the FIFA General Secretary for such procedure. However, the Ethics Committee in its meeting today did not find this evidence sufficient to convict me. Consequently, I should have been given the benefit of doubt but instead, I have been banned from all football activities,” Mr. Bin Hammam said.

Mr. Bin Hammam, who was head of the Asian Football Confederation and a FIFA executive member, charged that FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valcke, a supporter of FIFA president Sepp Blatter, had influenced the committee decision and compromised its independence.

"I have been given the impression that the Ethics Committee is absolutely an independent committee, but in the press conference we have seen today, the General Secretary made clear that he is the one who has the influence in this Committee." 

At the FIFA press conference, Mr. Valcke unveiled what Mr. Bin Hammam saw as new evidence, which had not been part of the committee proceedings and therefore had not been reviewed.

"I'm very disappointed about the way the status of the proceeding has been presented at the media conference. I am expecting that this will continue. This is not how I understand fair play. I'm reserving all my rights,” Mr. Bin Hammam said.

The suspension tarnishes what was otherwise a successful legacy. Mr. Bin Hammam played a key role in professionalizing Asian soccer, establishing a consistent standard across a huge and diverse continent, and launching professional leagues in India, Qatar and the UAE as well as the Asian Champions League. The one achievement he claimed which is harder to substantiate is that he democratized the AFC. Mr. Bin Hammam also played a key role in convincing European clubs to invest in grassroots development.

Mr. Bin Hamam and FIFA vice-president Jack Warner answered bribery charges Sunday in front of the committee resulting from allegations levelled by FIFA executive committee member Chuck Blazer. Mr. Blazer produced a file of evidence claiming that bundles of cash of up to $40,000 were handed over to CFU members of at the Trinidad meeting.

Responding to his temporary suspension, Mr. Warner criticized on the Trinidad and Tobago Soca Warriors Facebook the decision to clear Mr. Blatter. He charged that Mr. Blatter had bought votes at a May 3 meeting of CONCACAF, the association of North American and Caribbean soccer, by donating $ 1 million to CONCAFAF.

“This annoyed (European soccer boss President) Michel Platini who was present and he approached Secretary General Jerome Valcke complaining that Mr Blatter had no permission from the Finance Committee to make this gift to which Jerome replied that he will find the money for Mr Blatter,” Mr. Warner said.

Mr. Warner asserted further that he had submitted letters from 13 CFU member associations denying that he had been involved in any attempt at bribery. He said John Collins, the investigator hired by Mr. Blazer, had produced only one letter alleging that Mr. Warner had conspired with Mr. Bin Hammam to bribe CFU members.

At the news conference announcing the suspension of the FIFA officials, Mr. Valcke said similar allegations were made in an email he had received from the Puerto Rican soccer association.

Mr Warner charged further that Mr. Valcke in an email exchange regarding Mr.Bin Hammam’s candidacy had acknowledged that Qatar had bought the right to host the 2022 World Cup. Mr. Warner had threatened prior to his suspension to unleash a “football tsunami” against FIFA.

“For MBH (Mohamed Bin Hammam), I never understood why he was running. If really he thought he had a chance or just being an extreme way to express how much he does not like anymore JSB (Sepp Blatter). Or he thought you can buy FIFA as they bought the WC (World Cup),” Mr. Warner quoted Mr. Valcke as saying in his mail.

Mr. Valcke said after the announcement of the suspensions that the ethics committee had yet to meet with a whistle blower who was the source of The Sunday Times allegations that Qatar had paid $1.5 million each to buy the votes of FIFA executive committee members Issa Hayatou and Jacques Anouma. The Sunday Times made the allegation in a letter to a British parliamentary enquiry on soccer governance. Messrs. Hayatoou and Anouma have denied receiving money from Qatar.

The paper reported on Sunday that the whistle blower was demanding guarantees for his protection in exchange for his testimony. FIFA had withdrawn guarantees it initially provided saying that an anonymous statement by the whistle blower would be sufficient, The Sunday Times said.

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