KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING
—Mohamed Bin Hammam’s American lawyer has flayed the FIFA disciplinary process which imposed a life ban on the 63-year-old Qatari last year. Two weeks ago Bin Hammam and his lawyers had the ban scrapped by the Court of Arbitration of Sport in Lausanne.
Eugene Gulland, a Washington-based partner of the internationally-scoped law firm of Covington & Burling, talked at length about the case and the issues it raised in an interview with the Wall Street Journal.
This was the first time Gulland had spoken at length about the case and he pulled no punches.
Bin Hammam was suspended initially in May last year by FIFA over bribery allegations following a conference with Caribbean football officials in which he sought to press his FIFA presidential challenge to Sepp Blatter.
Bin Hammam subsequently withdrew from the election and was then banned for life by the FIFA ethics committee. He is currently under a 90-day suspension imposed by FIFA partly because of allegations of financial impropriety – raised by an Asian confederation report – and partly while the world federation studies the CAS judgment.
Gulland, asked by the Wall Street Journal why Bin Hammam had not appeared personally before CAS, said that he had already contributed everything possible in terms of written questions and documentation.
He added: “FIFA’s hearing process was flawed by shocking violations of due process and the declaration of guilt without any supporting evidence. That made CAS’s task pretty simple – it needed only to decide whether FIFA’s decisions had any defensible legal ground and whether FIFA satisfied its burden of proving Bin Hammam’s guilt.
“The CAS rules, like the laws of the U.S. and other civilized countries, treat an accused as innocent until proven guilty and do not require the accused to appear and prove their innocence. Since FIFA never proved Bin Hammam’s guilt, there was no reason for him to appear.”
Gulland went on to describe the FIFA process as “a bad-faith show trial denying him the most basic rights to a fair hearing.” He added: “From the very beginning of the proceedings, FIFA violated its own rules of confidentiality and leaked information about the case to the media.”
Gulland said that Bin Hammam first learned about the charges from media reports “based on FIFA leaks.”
In a comment aimed directly at the credibility of FIFA’s PR department, Gulland alleged that a “carefully orchestrated media campaign” allowed the world federation “to manipulate a media consensus reporting that Bin Hammam was guilty, even before his hearings.”
FIFA’s disciplinary hearings are always held in camera which has exacerbated persistent media criticism of a lack of transparency within the organisation.
Thus Gulland’s comments to the WSJ have unique resonance in shining a rare light on proceedings behind permanently closed doors.
Of course Gulland is not a disinterested party, but he said: “FIFA convicted Bin Hammam based on statements made by [FIFA vice-president] Jack Warner, [exco member] Chuck Blazer and [president] Sepp Blatter outside the hearings while he was denied any chance to cross-examine these key witnesses against him.
“The CAS panel rightly condemned that outrageous procedure and found ample reasons not to believe the statements.
“Only one of the three — Blatter– appeared to testify at the hearing, and you can see from the CAS decision that the Panel rejected his previous statements because of hopeless contradictions in his various accounts of events.”
Gulland said that FIFA had turned western legal standards on their head by demanding Bin Hammam prove his innocence rather than seeking to prove his guilt.
“FIFA tried to tailor its charges to fit the evidence,” he added.
Gulland questioned the allegation that monies handed out after the Port of Spain conference had come from Bin Hammam.
He also attacked the recent Asian confederation ‘audit’ as “outrageous” and “preposterous” and “politically motivated.”
It was, he said, a “desperate attempt by FIFA and its allies within the AFC to oust Bin Hammam from his elected positions within the AFC. It has many of the same features as FIFA’s failed campaign condemned by CAS.”
Immediately after the CAS verdict a tired-sounding Bin Hammam had said, in an interview with the BBC, that he now wanted to walk away from football.
Gulland suggested quite the opposite, saying: “If they think that they will be able to prolong this case for another year or more – they are very wrong. Bin Hammam is determined to see justice prevail once again and is confident that it will.”
** A comment from FIFA, which has recently rebuilt its disciplinary system, has been requested.
= = = =