AFC reports theft of payment documents

AFC reports theft of payment documents

James M. Dorsey ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News
AFC reports theft of payment documents

Bin Hammam has been suspended for more than a year on charges of having sought to bribe Caribbean football officials to support his failed effort last for FIFA presidency. AFP Photo

The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) has advised the Malaysian police that documents related to a payment by International Sports Events (ISE), a shareholder of Singapore-based World Sports Group (WSG), to suspended AFC president Mohammed Bin Hammam have gone missing from its Kuala Lumpur offices and were allegedly handed over to an associate of Mr. Bin Hammam, according to Malaysian police reports and sources close to the AFC.

The police were investigating the incident, which according to them as well as the reports, was first reported to the police on July 31 by AFC finance director Kuan Wee Hong, the sources said. Mr. Hong told the police in subsequent statements that the documents had been handed over to a Chinese man by the name of Tony Kang, believed to be the husband of Amelia Gan, the football body’s finance director under Mr. Bin Hammam.

Ms. Gan was dismissed from AFC after Mr. Bin Hammam’s suspension on suspicion of bribery and corruption. She has since been employed in Mr. Bin Hammam’s home country as a club licensing officer by Qatar Stars League, which is headed by a member of the Qatari royal family, Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Bin Ahmad Al Thani. Qatar Holding LLC, an investment arm of Qatar, holds a 10 percent stake in France’s Lagardere Unlimited, according to Lagardere’s 2011 annual report. Lagardere is WSG’s largest shareholder.

The missing documents relate to a $2 million payment in 2008 by Saudi Arabia-based ISE, one of three WSG shareholders according to the company’s website. A recent internal AFC audit conducted by PriceWaterhouse Coopers (PwC) said that the money had been paid to Mr. Bin Hammam for his personal use. The PwC report said the payment by ISE, which is believed to have a 10 percent stake in WSG, as well as a second payment of $12 million by a related company, Al Baraka Investment and Development Co., were “of interest. Transactions of significant value between these parties (of both a business and purportedly personal nature) occurred around the time of the MRA contract (a controversial $1 billion master rights agreement) negotiations with WSG,” PwC said.

PwC said that Al Baraka “may (through the Arab Radio & Television Co., which it owns) have been a 20 percent beneficial owner of the group at that time (of the payment). Further, our enquiries indicate that Mr Mohyedin Saleh Kamel, the Assistant Chief Executive Officer (Investments) of the Dallah Al-Baraka Group may have been (from 2005 2009) the Managing Director of ISE.” Al Baraka is a finance arm of Dallah Al Baraka that is owned by Saudi billionaire Saleh Kamel. PwC said that Mohyedin Saleh Kamel is believed to be Mr. Kamel’s son. It said that ART and ISE appear to share a post office box in Saudi Arabia. Neither Messrs. Kamel or their companies could be reached for comment.

WSG has refused to comment on the PwC report and has threatened reporters, including the author of this report, with defamation proceedings. However in an Aug. 28, 2012 letter to this reporter WSG Group Legal Advisor Stephanie McManus asserted that “PWC are incorrect and misconceived in suggesting that the MRA was undervalued. They have neither considered the terms of the contract correctly, the market, nor the circumstances in which it was negotiated.”

The agreement is controversial both because of the unexplained payments as well as assertions by sources close to the AFC that the football group, in line with common practice among international sport associations, should have concluded a service provider rather than a master rights agreement with WSG. The sources said such an agreement would have given the AFC greater control of its rights and how they are exploited and enabled it to better supervise the quality of services provided by WSG.

A July 31 Malaysian police report of AFC finance director Hong’s complaint says that he noticed that an “important document, which contained a bank report/statements belonging to former AFC president (Mohammad b Hammam), was missing from my office.” Mr. Hong told the police that he and a colleague, James Johnson, had last reviewed the document on July 13 and that “after that I kept the document back in a storage drawer” until he discovered that it was missing.

The Malaysian police could not be immediately reached for comment. Associated Press last week quoted Kuala Lumpur police chief in charge of commercial crimes investigations Izany Abdul Ghany as saying that police were investigating a complaint by an AFC official that another senior AFC official, a non-Malaysian national, had embezzled monies. Mr. Izany told the agency that the official under investigation, whom he did not name, could be charged with criminal breach of trust. Mr. Izany said the investigation was likely to take months.

Sources close to the AFC said that the football body within hours of reporting the missing document received a letter from Mr. Bin Hammam’s Malaysian lawyers accusing it of being responsible for the disappearance. The sources said the AFC had asked the Malaysian police to give it several days to conduct its own internal investigation before looking into the matter.

Mr. Bin Hammam has been suspended for more than a year as FIFA vice president and AFC president on charges of having sought to bribe Caribbean football officials to support his failed effort last year to challenge Sepp Blatter in elections for the FIFA presidency. The PwC report constituted the basis on which Mr. Bin Hammam’s suspension was extended in July after the Court of Arbitration of Sport overturned a FIFA ruling that banned Mr. Bin Hammam for life from involvement in professional football.