By James M. Dorsey
Malaysian authorities have arrested an associate of suspended Asian Football Confederation (AFC) and world soccer body FIFA vice president Mohammed bin Hammam on suspicion of theft of documents from AFC’s offices in Kuala Lumpur.
A AFC lawyer, Mohamad Bustaman Abdullah, identified the associate as Tony Kang, the husband of AFC’s finance director under Mr. Bin Hammam, who was let go after allegations of financial misconduct surfaced against the Qatari national, according to Agence France Press (AFP).
Mr. Abdullah said Mr. Kang had surrendered himself to Malaysian police and is expected to be charged in court in Kuala Lumpur after police reports identified him as having participated in the theft.
Mr. Kang’s arrest came as FIFA launched a new probe into allegations that Mr. Bin Hammam had last year sought to buy the votes of Caribbean soccer officials in his failed bid to challenge FIFA president Sepp Blatter in elections for the group’s presidency. Investigators have demanded documents from those involved at an extraordinary meeting of the Caribbean Football Union (CFU), where the bribes were allegedly paid on Mr. Bin Hammam's behalf, according to The Telegraph.
A Fifa-headed letter dated Sept 7 gave recipients a week’s notice for the delivery of “all correspondence including emails, texts, SMS messages, letters or notes related to Fifa, CFU, Concacaf (the Caribbean, North and Central American confederation) or any other football-related entity with which you’ve been affiliated. A list of all email addresses and accounts — including personal, CFU, Concacaf accounts, as relevant — you have used... All financial records related to Fifa, CFU, Concacaf or any other football-related entity with which you’ve been affiliated,” the newspaper said.
The FIFA investigation is in response to a ruling in July of the Court of the Arbitration of Sport (CAS) that overturned FIFA’s banning for life in July of last year of Mr. Bin Hammam from all involvement in professional soccer because of the bribery allegations. The court said FIFA had produced insufficient evidence for the ban, but made clear that its verdict was not a declaration that Mr. Bin Hammam was innocent and urged FIFA to do a more thorough investigation.
Malaysian police are investigating the theft of documents from the AFC’s premises after the Asian soccer body reported that documents related to a payment by International Sports Events (ISE), a shareholder of Singapore-based World Sports Group (WSG), to Mr. Bin Hammam, had gone missing and were allegedly handed over to an associate of Mr. Bin Hammam, according to Malaysian police reports and sources close to the AFC.
The AFC report was filed on July 31 by AFC finance director Kuan Wee Hong. Mr. Hong told the police in subsequent statements that the documents had been handed over to a Chinese male by the name of Tony Kang.
Mr. Kang’s wife has since her departure from the AFC been employed in Mr. Bin Hammam’s home country as a club licensing officer by Qatar Stars League, which is headed by a member of the Qatari royal family, Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Bin Ahmad Al Thani.
The missing documents relate to a $2 million payment in 2008 by Saudi Arabia-based ISE, one of three shareholders of Singapore-based World Sports Group (WSG), according to the company’s website. A recent internal AFC audit conducted by PriceWaterhouse Coopers (PwC) said that the money had been paid to Mr. Bin Hammam for his personal use. The PwC report said the payment by ISE, which is believed to have a ten per cent stake in WSG, as well as a second payment of $12 million by a related company, Al Baraka Investment and Development Co., were “of interest. Transactions of significant value between these parties (of both a business and purportedly personal nature) occurred around the time of the MRA contract (a controversial $1 billion master rights agreement) negotiations with WSG,” PwC said in its report.
PwC said that Al Baraka “may (through the Arab Radio & Television Co., which it owns) have been a 20% beneficial owner of the group at that time (of the payment). Further, our enquiries indicate that Mr Mohyedin Saleh Kamel, the Assistant Chief Executive Officer (Investments) of the Dallah Al-Baraka Group may have been (from 2005 2009) the Managing Director of ISE.” Al Baraka is a finance arm of Dallah Al Baraka that is owned by Saudi billionaire Saleh Kamel. PwC said that Mohyedin Saleh Kamel is believed to be Mr. Kamel’s son. It said that ART and ISE appear to share a post office box in Saudi Arabia. Neither Messrs. Kamel or their companies could be reached for comment.
In its report, PwC said that “it is highly unusual for funds (especially in the amounts detailed here) that appear to be for the benefit of Mr Hammam personally, to be deposited to an organization’s bank account. In view of the recent allegations that have surrounded Mr Hammam, it is our view that there is significant risk that…the AFC may have been used as a vehicle to launder funds and that the funds have been credited to the former President for an improper purpose (Money Laundering risk)” or that “the AFC may have been used as a vehicle to launder the receipt and payment of bribes.”
WSG has refused to comment on the PwC report and has threatened reporters, including the author of this report, with defamation proceedings. WSG has filed legal action against this writer, who has reported extensively on the Bin Hammam affair, in a bid to force him to disclose his sources and intimidate potential sources. Qatar Holding LLC, an investment arm of Qatar, holds a ten per cent stake in France’s Lagardere Unlimited, WSG’s largest shareholder, according to Lagardere’s 2011 annual report.
However in an August 28, 2012 letter to this reporter WSG Group Legal Advisor Stephanie McManus asserted that “PWC are incorrect and misconceived in suggesting that the MRA was undervalued. They have neither considered the terms of the contract correctly, the market, nor the circumstances in which it was negotiated,” Ms. McManus wrote.
The agreement is controversial both because of the unexplained payments as well as assertions by sources close to the AFC that the soccer group, in line with common practice among international sport associations, should have concluded a service provider rather than a master rights agreement with WSG. The sources said such an agreement would have given the AFC greater control of its rights and how they are exploited and enabled it to better supervise the quality of services provided by WSG.
A July 31 Malaysian police report of AFC finance director Hong’s complaint says that he noticed that an “important document, which contained a bank report/statements belonging to former AFC president (Mohammad b Hammam), was missing from my office.” Mr. Hong told the police that he and a colleague, James Johnson, had last reviewed the document on July 13 and that “after that I kept the document back in a storage drawer” until he discovered that it was missing.
Sources close to the AFC said that the soccer body within hours of reporting the missing document received a letter from Mr. Bin Hammam’s Malaysian lawyers accusing it of being responsible for the disappearance. The sources said the AFC had asked the Malaysian police to give it several days to conduct its own internal investigation before looking into the matter.
A second Malaysian police report dated August 11 corroborated by sources close to the AFC quoted Mr. Hong as reporting to the police that AFC staffer Selina Lee Siew Choo, “had admitted taking the file (containing the documents) and said she had handed them to a male Chinese known as Tony, the husband of Ms Amelia Gan, who was the former (AFC) Finance Director. Selina had also admitted making a copy of a bank document advice for a transaction worth USD $2 million, which was a payment from ISE.”
A August 15 Malaysian police report, also corroborated by sources close to the AFC, quoted Mr. Hong as saying that Ms. Choo on August 2 had “admitted stealing the file from the drawer in my office as instructed by Ms Amelia Gan (former finance director at AFC). Her instructions were to steal the file which showed the document/ bank advice containing the US$2 million transaction from ISE and surrender them to her husband, Tony Kang.”
The report quoted Mr. Hong as further saying that “I have my suspicions/reasons to believe that the theft of the file was to dispose evidence involving a case of wrongful management of AFC accounts by Mohammad Bin Hammam in the wake of a financial audit by PricewaterhouseCoopers.”
The PwC report constituted the basis on which Mr. Bin Hammam’s suspension from the AFC and FIFA was extended. The report allowed the two groups to postpone any reinstatement of Mr. Bin Hammam after his banning was overturned by CAS.
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