Mohammed Bin Hammam
By James M. Dorsey
Acting Asian Football Confederation (AFC) president Zhang Jilong in an uncharacteristic outburst has accused the group’s suspended president Mohammed Bin Hammam and his lawyer, Eugene Gulland, of adopting “intimidatory tactics” in his battle to defeat charges of bribery, corruption and financial mismanagement.
Sources close to the AFC said Mr. Jilong’s public attack on Mr. Bin Hammam, who has also been suspended as world soccer body FIFA vice president, followed a barrage of emails and other communications in which the Qatari national allegedly threatened and intimidated AFC executive committee members and staff. The sources said Mr. Bin Hammam had no right to contact individual AFC officials and should direct any communication’s to the group’s legal department.
Mr. Bin Hammam is under investigation by the Malaysian police as well as the AFC and FIFA. Mr. Gulland, in an email to this reporter, rejected Mr. Jilong and the source’s charges.
Mr. Jilong charged in a letter dated October 17 that Mr. Bin Hammam and Mr. Gulland’s “plan is intimidate and create technical legal issues and objections in the hope that the more serious allegations of secret commissions, bribery, corruption and other wrong-doings are never exposed to the light of day.”
The acting AFC chairman also rejected charges that the AFC’s investigation of Mr. Bin Hammam was riddled with conflicts of interest or that he had at any time benefitted personally from the disgraced official’s support. Mr. Bin Hammam reportedly asserted in a letter dated October 8 that he had made payments to Mr. Jilong. Mr.Bin Hammam first made the assertion in a meeting last month in London with FIFA investigators.
“Mr. Bin Hammam and Mr. Gulland do not want the Asian Football Confederation to consider the evidence that now exists and for which Mr. Bin Hammam must answer. The immediate task I believe is that we must all agree to allow our independent Judicial Bodies to hear the evidence and decide the case against Mr. Bin Hammam. We can then take the next steps in our journey of re-building the Asian Football Confederation,” M. Jilong said.
“Accordingly, AFC is investigating whether there are sufficient legal grounds to file an ethics violation against Mr. Gulland to stop improper legal defence tactics intended only to interfere with the independent functions of the AFC Judicial Bodies,” Mr. Jilong went on to say.
Mr. Bin Hammam was first banned for life in July of last year by FIFA from any involvement in professional soccer after the group’s ethics committee found him guilty of bribing Caribbean soccer officials to secure their vote in his failed electoral challenge to Sepp Blatter’s presidency. The ban was overturned by the Switzerland-based Court of Arbitration of Sport (CAS) on the grounds of insufficient evidence in a ruling that stressed that it was not declaring Mr. Bin Hammam innocent and that urged FIFA to present a properly investigated case.
Mr. Bin Hammam was this summer again suspended by FIFA and the AFC after an independent auditor’s report by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) charged that he had used an AFC sundry account as his personal account and questioned the terms and negotiation procedure of a $1 billion master rights agreement (MRA) with the Singapore-based World Sports Group (WSG). The PwC report also raised questions about $14 million in payments by a WSG shareholder to Mr. Bin Hammam prior to the signing of the agreement.
A Singapore court at the request of WSG last month instructed this reporter to reveal his sources for his reporting on the report as well as Mr. Bin Hammam’s relationship to the company. A Singapore judge is scheduled to hear on October 30 Mr. Dorsey’s appeal against the ruling.
In an affidavit to the court, Mr. Dorsey asserted last month that he believed that WSG’s legal action was an attempt at “indirectly discovering who within the AFC may have breached their confidentiality and also suppress any well meaning or good intended person from coming forward in the future and is seeking to punitively punish those who may have spoken against them.”
In his letter to AFC members, Mr. Jilong noted that Mr. Bin Hammam was framing his communications as an AFC official. “As an example of this unwarranted interference, I would like to ask that we all stop for one moment and recognize that Mr. Bin Hammam’s communication to you as an AFC Official certainly is a violation of FIFA’s provisional ban against Mr. Bin Hammam. We have referred his actions to FIFA. The provisional FIFA ban which is still valid and has not been lifted was enacted or put in place to prevent Mr. Bin Hammam from participating in association football activities which includes sending letters to the AFC Disciplinary and Appeal Committees,” Mr. Jilong said.
In his email, Mr. Gulland asserted that “a group of AFC officials working with FIFA” was “trying to seize control of the AFC.” As part of that scheme, Mr. Gulland said the officials and FIFA were “trying to take over the disciplinary decision-making machinery in order to make sure that Mr. Bin Hammam cannot return to AFC. They have threatened to bring disciplinary charges against anyone in Asian football who communicated with Mr. Bin Hammam to oppose their tactics.” Mr. Gulland said Mr. Bin Hammam had advised the AFC officials whose actions were “in violation of the law and AFC statutes” that he would take “legal measures to protect his rights if the officials persist in this conduct.”
The dispute over Mr. Bin Hammam has sharply divided the AFC with detractors of the suspended official acting in the name of the group without the knowledge of its most senior officials. As a result, Mr. Jilong in his letter warned that the AFC is at a crossroads.
“We have a simple choice to make in the face of the distractions being thrown in our direction. We can decide to roll up ourselves and do the work such as amending our controlling statutes to put in place comprehensive by-laws and regulations which actually create a system of governance that leads to transparency and accountability. Or, we can ignore the truth and go back to business like it was before while pretending that it is acceptable for one man to assume control of this Football Confederation and run it like it was his own private business,” Mr. Jilong said.
“I believe, I understand and know the direction we must take to get where we want to be – and I believe right now we must stay the course and see the legal process that has been started through to its end. I never asked to become the Acting President or to take on these incredibly difficult problems and responsibilities. But I will not run away from this work either and I ask for your help and support,” he said.
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.”
Malaysian police last month arrested the husband of an associate of Mr. Bin Hammam on suspicion of helping steal documents related to one of the payments to Mr. Bin Hammam from AFC’s head office in Kuala Lumpur.
Mr. Bin Hammam has repeatedly denied all the charges. Mr. Bin Hammam last month reportedly furnished FIFA investigators with his own independent expert's report from London accountants Smith and Williamson into the AFC account that was said to include a line-by-line explanation of all expenditure.
WSG has so far not commented publicly on the PwC report or its relationship or that of its shareholder with Mr. Bin Hammam. However in an August 28, 2012 letter to this reporter WSG that threatened legal action, Group Legal Advisor Stephanie McManus asserted that “PWC are incorrect and misconceived in suggesting that the MRA (master rights agreement) 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.
James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore and the author of the blog, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer.