JAMES M DORSEY: FIFA is focusing its investigation of suspended executive committee and Asian Football Confederation (AFC) president Mohammed Bin Hammam on his management of the Asian body’s finances and his relationship to a Singapore-based sports marketing group.

The focus follows submission of a report in which independent FIFA ethics investigator Michael J. Garcia dropped his enquiry into allegations that Bin Hammam had sought to bribe Caribbean football officials.

Sources said the report that Garcia submitted to FIFA adjudicator Hans-Joachim Eckert included an internal audit of AFC finances and the group’s $1bn marketing rights agreement with Singapore-based World Sports Group as well as unspecified new information related to the audit.

“There was substantial new information that made those within AFC reformist camp more confident that FIFA would be able to nail Bin Hammam. People on the AFC executive committee are more or less giving up on him but are protecting their vested interests by teaming up,” one source said. “There are a number of people who came forward,” said another source.

In a meeting late last month, executive committee members effectively agreed – to the chagrin of reformers – to bury the audit conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers in exchange for consensus on the holding of AFC presidential and executive committee election in April in which Bin Hammam, a 63-year old Qatari national, would not be a candidate.

In anticipation of such a deal reformers engineered responsibility of the AFC investigation based on the PwC audit being transferred from the Asian body to FIFA in advance of the executive committee meeting.

The AFC inquiry was integrated into Garcia’s investigation of allegations that Bin Hammam had last year tried to buy the votes of Caribbean football officials for his failed bid to challenge long-standing FIFA president Sepp Blatter in the 2011 presidential election.

Bin Hammam has vigorously denied the allegations.

The Swiss-based Court of Arbitration of Sport (CAS) earlier this year overturned FIFA’s banning for life of Bin Hammam from involvement in football because of the Caribbean allegations on the grounds that there was insufficient evidence. The court however went out of its way to say that it did not believe that Bin Hammam was innocent and advised FIFA to conduct a more proper investigation.

Personal account

Bin Hammam has since been suspended from his FIFA and AFC offices pending the outcome of the investigation of his management of the Asian body.

Sources – as well as Bin Hammam’s lawyer, Eugene Gulland in an interview with The Wall Street Journal – confirmed that Garcia had dropped the inquiry into the Caribbean affair on the grounds that he had not uncovered any new evidence.

Media reports quoted Garcia’s report as saying: “This investigation focused on events that took place at the Caribbean Football Union meeting in Trinidad and Tobago in May 2011. With respect to the events at the CFU conference, the investigation uncovered no new material proof beyond the substantial evidence presented during the proceedings that culminated with the CAS decision vacating Mr Bin Hammam’s ban.

“Accordingly, the Investigatory Chamber has closed this matter consistent with the CAS Panel’s guidance regarding newly discovered evidence.”

Gulland told the WSJ that “we are vigorously challenging the provisional suspension. He said Bin Hammam was challenging his suspension pending the Asia-related investigation before CAS and Swiss courts.

Sources said Eckert, dependent on to what degree the reported new information adds to PwC’s assertion, could either pronounce on Bin Hammam’s fate or send the case back to Garcia for further investigation. Eckert has given Bin Hammam 45 days to respond to Garcia’s report.

The PwC report concluded in no uncertain terms that Bin Hammam had used an AFC personal account as his personal account. Bin Hammam has reportedly countered that monies withdrawn from that account or used for personal expenses constituted repayment of monies he had advanced to the AFC to ensure its cash flow.

If so, the PwC assertions would amount to wrong administrative procedures rather than financial abuse.

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

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