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Tuesday, August 9, 2011

FIFA indicts Caribbean officials to Bin Hammam’s detriment


Mohammed Bin Hammam (Source: Soccer Reviews)
By James M. Dorsey

Soccer’s world governing body FIFA in a move that does not bode well for disgraced Asian Football Confederation (AFC) chief Mohammed Bin Hammam and three of his associates, will open corruption proceedings against more than 10 Caribbean officials at a meeting in Zurich scheduled for Tuesday.

The proceedings are the result of an inquiry into allegations that the officials of member associations of the Caribbean Football Union (CFU) accepted bribes from Mr. Hammam, a Qatari national and former FIFA vice president, in exchange for their support for his failed campaign for the FIFA presidency. The inquiry is believed to have gathered evidence from witnesses who in exchange were granted immunity.

FIFA’s ethics committee last month banned Mr. Bin Hammam from involvement in soccer for life on charges that he had bribed CFU officials at a meeting in Trinidad in May. Mr. Bin Hammam withdrew his candidacy in late May for the FIFA presidency hours before the soccer body suspended him pending the result of the investigation that ultimately led to his banning. Mr. Bin Hammam’s withdrawal paved the way for the unchallenged re-election in early June of FIFA president Sepp Blatter for a fourth term.

Mr. Bin Hammam, the highest FIFA official ever to have been banned and the first to have been named for life, has denied any wrongdoing and has vowed to appeal the ethics committee’s verdict. He has claimed that the evidence against him was flimsy and weak and taken FIFA to task for so far not providing him with the justification of its verdict since it was pronounced on July 23.

“This delay is suspicious in that it gives FIFA the time to devise a justification for a decision that it was always going to make anyway. This is also outrageous as FIFA has been quick to publicize my guilt while holding up my opportunity to appeal,” Mr. Bin Hammam recently wrote on his website.

The Bin Hammam case is part of the worst scandal in FIFA’s 107-year old history. Mr. Blatter has vowed zero tolerance in a bit to make the rooting out of corruption in the organization his legacy.

The committee since the banning has opened inquiries into three of Mr. Bin Hammam’s associates, - Egypt’s Hany Abou Rida, Vernon Manilal Fernando of Sri Lanka, Worawi Makudi of Thailand. Messrs Abou Rida, Manilal and Makudi accompanied Mr. Bin Hammam on his trip to Trinidad. All three have denied any knowledge of the allegations against the Qatari national. Messrs. Makudi and Manilal are members of FIFA’s as well as the AFC’s executive committee.

FIFA on July 26 gave the CFU officials 48 hours to provide evidence that they had not accepted from Mr. Bin Hammam envelopes containing $40,000 each at the meeting in Trinidad. The cash was supposed to have been to cover their travel expenses.

“Truthful and complete reporting will be considered in mitigation by the ethics committee when deciding on potential sanctions,” FIFA said last month. “Any person who has relevant information but does not come forward during this 48-hour period will be subject to the full range of sanctions.”

Cuba was the only member of the 25-strong CFU that didn’t send a delegate to the Trinidad meeting. Officials from nine other countries are believed to have told investigators that they had accepted or were offered envelopes full of cash. The remaining 15 reportedly denied any knowledge of the incident or refused to take part in the probe.

“Many cases, which look very simple, are not as simple as they look and this one could be a complicated case,” Guido Tognoni, a former adviser to Blatter at FIFA, told Bloomberg in a telephone interview.

The proceedings against the CFU officials as well as the investigations of Messrs. Makudi and Manilal are likely to impact the work of an AFC committee authorized at an AFC executive committee meeting in Kuala Lumpur last month to recommend ways of rolling back Mr. Bin Hammam’s grip on the Asian body. The committee is expected to issue its recommendations in November, allowing sufficient time for the FIFA proceedings to run their course.

James M. Dorsey, is a senior fellow at Nanyang Technological University's S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies and the author of the blog, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer

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