KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING
** Mohamed Bin Hammam, currently fighting his corner yet again before the Court of Arbitration for Sport, has been hit by new FIFA action stemming, it appears, from a communications campaign protesting his innocence over accusations of misuse of funds.
The 63-year-old Qatari, who denies all wrongdoing, remains under a worldwide ban by FIFA though he is clear of two provisional suspensions imposed by the Asian Football Confederation from whose presidency he was removed last year.
The first AFC suspension was for 30 days, the second for 20 days while it pondered an audit by PricewaterhouseCoopers which claimed that Bin Hammam had used more than $1m out of AFC accounts for private payments to friends and family.
Simultaneously world federation FIFA suspended Bin Hammam worldwide for 90 days from July 26 until October 24 – and hence expires in the middle of next week.
Now it appears almost certain that FIFA will take up its statutory right to extend the suspension for a further 45 days. This is because, on Monday, FIFA’s Disciplinary Committee opened proceedings against Bin Hammam for an alleged breach of the original ban.*
Ethics prosecutor Michael Garcia needed all the time he could find to consider both the PwC report and how to respond to Bin Hammam’s success in persuading the Court of Arbitration for Sport to overturn the FIFA life ban imposed in mid-2011.
The current FIFA order bars Bin Hammam from administrative roles within though NOT from contacting anyone in official positions. However senior AFC insiders had been disturbed by the manner in which they believed Bin Hammam was defying FIFA in ‘bombarding them’ (the words used by one source) with emails.
Preventing Bin Hammam contacting officers and officials could have been construed as denying him the opportunity to mount a full and proper defence. However, sources within the AFC have told this writer that initial communications from Bin Hammam had been sent on his original presidential office headed notepaper, thus claiming a status and power denied him by the various suspensions.
This has prompted a complaint and FIFA’s subsequent new charge.
Bin Hammam’s communications – sent more recently on his behalf through his Washington-based lawyer Eugene Gulland of Covington & Burling – were the subject of a lengthy rebuttal earlier this week from Zhang Jilong, the acting AFC president.
Jilong accused Bin Hammam and his team of intimidatory tactics.
The political arm of the AFC has been paralysed by uncertainty over what the future may hold should Bin Hammam score a further victory through CAS to reclaim the AFC presidency of which he was stripped when banned for life by FIFA in August 2011.
Such concerns echo the state of paranoia during the last days of Bin Hammam’s AFC presidency when even visitors to the confederation’s Kuala Lumpur HQ were cautioned to guard their comments while in official cars.
The Bin Hammam issue has been complicated further by statements in the PwC audit about the monopolistic marketing contract entered into by the AFC in 1990 with World Sport Group and its operative subsidiary World Sport Football.
The original contract was due to expire in 2012 but was renegotiated four years ahead of time after Bin Hammam sought significant extra funding to fund a Japanese proposal to launch the Asian Champions League.
Bin Hammam has insisted his financial dealings were transparent. He says all payments were signed off with full and proper supervision and knowledge of senior AFC finance officers. He even commissioned a responsive audit of his own from London accountants Smith & Williamson.
Business associates have told this writer that Bin Hammam believed he had a right to access official accounts because the sums were merely repayments against an earlier personal loan of his own to the AFC.
The fall-out thus far has included:
1, Malaysian police instituting charges against former AFC finance director Amelia Gan and her husband for theft of documents;
2, WSG taking legal action against the scholar/journalist James M Dorsey to demand that he name sources from leaks from within the AFC;
3, FIFA suspending Bin Hammam’s former AFC personal assistant Najeeb Chirakal for non-co-operation with its inquiries.
Bin Hammam’s defence places a question mark against the credibility of acting president Jilong.
When Bin Hammam was banned for life in 2011 Jilong, as senior vice-president, took up not only the presidency but the office’s place on the FIFA executive committee. Subsequently he was appointed chairman of FIFA’s Olympic organising committee for London 2012.
Jilong has been chairman of the AFC finance committee for the past 11 years which encompassed the entire near-decade of Bin Hammam’s presidency (2002 to 2011). Hence if Bin Hammam’s financial dealings were transparent and approved at the highest levels then Jilong might be assumed to have known about them.
FIFA prosecutor Garcia has been reviewing the original case against Bin Hammam which stemmed from the infamous Caribbean Football Union conference in May 2011 during his campaign to oust Sepp Blatter as president of FIFA.
Garcia has been considering whether he should generate new charges against Bin Hammam, stemming from either the Port of Spain bribery allegations or from the PwC audit (or both). Highly significant new evidence would be needed about the original case not to raise concerns over issues of double jeopardy.
The likelihood of all the above is that Bin Hammam and Gulland as well as world and Asian football will be shuffling in and out of the Court of Arbitration for Sport until at least the spring of 2014.
That would mean further damaging smears being drawn across the image of the game in the immediate run-up to the World Cup in Brazil.
Not an edifying prospect . . . but maybe an essential price to be paid along the road to reform.
* In response to a question from this writer, FIFA stated: “. . . on 15 October 2012, disciplinary proceedings have been opened against Mohamed Bin Hammam by FIFA’s Disciplinary Committee for an alleged breach of the ban imposed.”
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