FIFA issues 90-day suspension to Bin Hammam to buy time in lengthy battle
James M. Dorsey ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News
The legal battle between the former Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Chairman Mohammed Bin Hammam (pictured) and world football’s governing body, FIFA, is raging on. AP PhotoWorld football body FIFA has suspended its ousted vice president, Mohammed Bin Hammam, from involvement in professional football for 90 days. FIFA hopes an independent audit critical of the disgraced Qatari’s financial management of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) will allow it to counter a court verdict that could force it to reinstate him.
FIFA said in a statement that its newly appointed anti-corruption team, former New York state attorney Michael J. Garcia and German judge Hans-Joachim Eckert, would also use the suspension to assess the prospects of building a more solid case against Bin Hammam in the wake of the court verdict.
The Switzerland-based Court of Arbitration of Sport (CAS) earlier this month lifted a FIFA ban for life on Bin Hammam from involvement in football, after finding him guilty of attempting to buy the votes of Caribbean football officials in his challenge to replace FIFA boss Sepp Blatter in the football body’s presidential election. Bin Hammam withdrew his candidacy days before the election, after FIFA had opened its investigation into the bribery charges.
The CAS ruling left little doubt that the judges believed that Bin Hammam, a 63-year old Qatari national, was more likely than not guilty of the charges brought against him. The court nonetheless acquitted Bin Hammam on the grounds that FIFA’s evidence did not meet its standard of “comfortable satisfaction.” The court overturned the ban, effectively arguing that FIFA’s case had been based on flimsy evidence, inconclusive investigations and witnesses whose credibility was in question.
FIFA’s use of the audit to temporarily suspend Bin Hammam comes after it unsuccessfully sought to delay the court’s verdict by introducing the report written by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). The court rejected the report as unrelated to the allegations that Bin Hammam had bribed Caribbean football officials to secure their votes in his planned challenge of FIFA president Sepp Blatter in the football body’s presidential election last July.
The report alleges that Bin Hammam used AFC accounts for his own benefit, as well as that of his family, friends and football bodies across the globe. The report also raised questions about Bin Hammam’s management of a $1 billion master rights agreement (MRA) with WSG, 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.
FIFA appears to be betting on the fact that even if it cannot build a stronger case to reopen its Caribbean bribery case, the fallout of the Asian report will provide it with the grounds to maintain its ousting and banning of Bin Hammam.
The report by AFC prompted the Asian football body to suspend Bin Hammam for 30 days as its president, pending a review of the report by its evaluation committee. The report provides the AFC with the reasonable suspicion of a legal offence that, under Malaysian law, it 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 Bin Hammam’s suspension only once for a maximum of another 20 days, 10 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 FIFA suspension constitutes an implicit recognition of the CAS criticism even if the football body’s statement did not say so explicitly. FIFA’s investigation into Bin Hammam is likely to be the tip of the iceberg. Wracked in recent years by a series of high-profile corruption scandals and persistent controversy over the awarding of the 2022 World Cup to Qatar, FIFA’s investigation will inevitably broaden to review not only the Qatari’s involvement in the bid, but also the bid itself. That is probably also true for the expected AFC and Malaysian investigations.
Qatar has consistently downplayed Bin Hammam’s role in its winning bid. Qatar was awarded the 2022 World Cup at a December 2010 FIFA meeting, which also awarded Russia the 2018 tournament.
“Pretending that he was not involved is a smoke screen. Bin Hammam opposed awarding the two World Cups at the same time. He wanted to be the FIFA president to award it to Qatar in 2016. He also feared that Qatar may not get it if the two tournaments were awarded simultaneously. He was right, but lobbied executive committees unsuccessfully” to delay the vote on the 2022 World Cup, a former FIFA official said.