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Tuesday, July 17, 2012

AFC dashes Bin Hammam’s hopes for a return

By James M. Dorsey

The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) has effectively dashed any hope that disgraced Qatari soccer official Mohammed Bin Hammam could return to world soccer.

In a statement, the AFC said that it had temporarily suspended its disgraced president after an internal audit revealed fresh allegations of financial wrongdoing by Mr. Bin Hammam. The Qatari national had already been suspended last year pending his appeal against a decision by world soccer body FIFA to ban him from soccer for life because of his alleged involvement in corruption.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Lausanne, Switzerland, is expected to rule next week on Mr. Bin Hammam’s appeal against charges that he tried to buy votes of Caribbean soccer officials in his bid last year to defeat Mr. Blatter in FIFA presidential elections.

Some AFC officials believe that CAS could reduce the FIFA sentence in a move that would allow Mr. Bin Hammam to complete his term as head of Asian soccer. The AFC audit is likely to put to bed any expectation of Mr. Bin Hammam’s return.

Mr. Bin Hammam’s expected definitive demise has rekindled the battle for his succession with the heads of the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain football associations announcing their candidacy. The two Arab contenders, each with their own political baggage, will likely compete against frontrunner and acting AFC president Zhang Jilong.

Yusuf al-Serkal of the UAE is viewed as an associate of Mr. Bin Hammam who however unlike others close to the Qatari has not been tainted by corruption charges.

Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al-Khalifa of Bahrain’s candidacy is more controversial. Sheikh Salman is a member of the island’s minority Sunni royal family that last year brutally suppressed anti-government protests. Several prominent national soccer players were among some 150 athletes and sports officials arrested, allegedly tortured and dismissed from their jobs because of their participation in the protests.

The final act in Mr. Bin Hammam’s downfall takes on broader significance as FIFA prepares to appoint a corruption prosecutor who is likely to investigate how the soccer body awarded Qatar the right to host the 2022 World Cup.

Qatar’s successful bid has been mired by so far unsubstantiated claims of illegal payments, unethical favours to FIFA executive committee members and allegations that Qatar, Spain and Portugal had violated bid rules by agreeing to swap voted. FIFA President Sepp Blatter publicly confirmed that Qatar and Spain and Portugal had colluded to trade votes in an interview with the BBC. “I’ll be honest, there was a bundle of votes between Spain and Qatar. But it was a nonsense. It was there but it didn’t work, not for one and not for the other side,” Mr. Blatter said.

Qatar has long argued that Mr. Bin Hammam did not play a significant part in its bid campaign despite his close relationship to the gulf state’s emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani and influential role in world soccer.

The AFC sanctions against Mr. Bin Hammam come as the result of a year-long audit by Pricewaterhouse Coopers that revealed "infringements" in the "execution of certain contracts" and tampering with AFC bank accounts, the AFC said in statement. The statement said the case had been referred to the AFC's disciplinary committee.

“The alleged infringements include Article 6 of the AFC Statutes (Conduct of Bodies and Officials), Article 62 of the AFC Disciplinary Code (Corruption) and Articles 3 (General Rules), 5 (Conflict of Interest), 9 (Fiduciary Duty and Confidentiality), 10 (Accepting Gifts and Benefits), 11 (Bribery) and 12 (Commission) of the AFC Code of Ethics,” the statement said.

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

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