JAMES M. DORSEY
Qatari and United Arab Emirates football bodies employ the former senior staff of the Asian Football Confederation in another controversial move in the Bin Hammam saga
Former Asian Football Confederation chairman Mohammed Bin Hammam continues his legal battle against charges of bribery and corruption. Qatar has long downplayed his role in the country’s winning the 2022 World Cup bid but the fact that Qatar and UAE football federations employed Bin Hammam’s former team has started a new controversy. AFP Photo
Qatari and United Arab Emirates football bodies have provided employment for dismissed former Asian Football Confederation (AFC) senior staff implicated in an independent auditor’s report that questions the financial management of the group by its suspended president, Qatari national Mohammed Bin Hammam.
The fact that the Qatar and UAE football bodies agreed to hire personnel that the AFC let go because of their relationship to Mr. Bin Hammam is likely to prompt further questions about his links to the Qatari royal family and his potential involvement in Qatar’s controversial winning of the right to host the 2022 World Cup.
Mr. Bin Hammam is fighting charges of bribery and corruption and potentially allegations of money laundering, busting of U.S. sanctions, and tax evasion as a result of the auditor’s report, as well as his ousting last year as vice president of world football body FIFA. Mr. Bin Hammam is at the center of a number of football corruption scandals that have rocked world football and FIFA in recent years.
Qatar has long downplayed Mr. Bin Hammam’s involvement in its World Cup bid, despite his past close relationship to the Gulf state’s emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, and his key role in world football.Legal battle
Mr. Bin Hammam has appealed an AFC decision earlier this month to suspend him as president for 30 days pending review of the report by PriceWaterhouse Cooper (PWC) that alleges financial mismanagement of AFC accounts to his own benefit as well as that of family, friends and football bodies across the globe.
The report also raises questions about Mr. Bin Hammam’s management of a $1 billion master rights agreement (MRA) with Singapore-based World Sport Group (WSG) and a $300 million broadcasting rights contract with the Qatar-owned Al Jazeera television network, as well as his financial relationship to parties with possible vested interests in those deals.
The report provides the Kuala Lumpur-based AFC with the reasonable suspicion of a legal offence, which it, under Malaysian law, is obliged to report to authorities. It also leaves the AFC with little choice but to launch a full-fledged investigation of its own. The AFC, which has Malaysian nationals, including a member of a royal family, on its executive committee, can extend Mr. Bin Hammam’s suspension for a maximum of another 20 days, ten of which must be used to prepare a case against him. It also has to report its findings to Malaysian authorities within that period.
The report says former AFC assistant secretary-general and director of finance Amelia Gan managed AFC accounts that Mr. Bin Hammam used “to facilitate personal transactions, as if they were his personal bank accounts.” It also alleges that Ms. Gan was involved in negotiating the AFC contract with WSG that is being questioned. Ms. Gan is currently employed as club licensing officer by the Qatar Stars League, which is headed by a member of the Qatari royal family, Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Bin Ahmad Al Thani.
Similarly, the former director of Mr. Bin Hammam’s AFC office, Jenny Be, who like Ms. Gan, AFC Assistant Secretary- General Carlo Nohra and the AFC’s director of Vision Asia, Michelle Chai, was let go last year after Mr. Bin Hamman became embroiled in the FIFA scandal, is also employed by the Qatar Star League as a club liaison officer.
Mr. Nohra, a former WSG vice president for corporate strategy, whose $19,767 car loan was paid by Mr. Bin Hammam according to the PWC report, “played a prominent role in negotiating the detailed clauses of the MRA,” PWC said. Mr. Nohra was chief executive officer of the UAE football league until January. He has since become CEO of UAE football club Al Ain. Ms. Chai is the UAE professional league’s director of club licensing and professional affairs.
The league is managed by the UAE Football Association, headed by Yousef al-Serkal, an AFC executive committee member who is widely seen as close to Mr. Bin Hammam. Mr. Al-Serkal is campaigning to succeed Mr. Bin Hammam as AFC president. Ms. Chai, according to AFC sources, has accompanied Mr. Al-Serkal to AFC meetings.
Supporters of Mr. Bin Hammam who, like some former AFC employees, credit him for his turnaround of Asian football and his generosity.
“He’s just the one who got caught with his hand in the cookie jar,” said a former AFC employee. He said he, like many others in AFC, had been aware of Mr. Bin Hammam’s questionable financial management. The PWC report came to a similar conclusion.‘Generous’ chairman
The former employee said Mr. Bin Hammam had promoted personnel to positions they would have been unlikely to be able to occupy otherwise. He said Ms. Gan had been a bookkeeper prior to becoming assistant secretary-general and director of finance. Ms. Be, he said, was a secretary before being elevated to head of Mr. Bin Hammam’s office, and Ms. Chai was a development officer before also being appointed assistant secretary-general.
The employee said the WSG contract had enabled Mr. Bin Hammam “to live an extravagant lifestyle” and to shower his extravagance on AFC itself. He described “over the top” AFC functions, at which personnel and guests were given jewelry.
The employee, as well as sources close to the AFC investigation of Mr. Bin Hammam, said that the Japanese, South Korean, Jordanian and Kuwaiti football associations have long been unhappy with the WSG contract, which they saw as unfavorable to the Asian confederation. More than half of the revenues derived from the contract are believed to originate in Japan and South Korea.
“Everybody who had a good look at the contract could see that it was completely in favor of WSG,” one of the sources said.
“Japan fought it hard. A number of associations, including Jordan and Kuwait, protested. Nothing, however, was taken into consideration at the 2009 AFC congress,” explained another source.