Payments of Asia football group question Qatar World Cup bid
James M. DORSEY
FIFA President J Blatter (R) and Zwanziger (L) Member Executive Committee are seen at a meeting. AP photoQuestionable payments by a company owned by the banned former world football body FIFA vice president and Asian Football Confederation (AFC) president, Mohammed Bin Hammam, to another disgraced former FIFA executive committee member, Jack Warner, raise renewed questions about Qatar’s controversial winning of the right to host the 2022 World Cup. It also raises fresh doubts about the integrity of FIFA and the AFC’s efforts to root out corruption.
The Daily Telegraph has reported that Doha-based Kemco Group, wholly owned by Mr. Bin Hammam, a Qatari national who was banned by FIFA in 2012 because of “conflicts of interest” during his AFC presidency and FIFA vice presidency, had paid some $2 million to former FIFA vice president Jack Warner and others related to him shortly after Qatar was awarded the World Cup. Qatar has denied any wrongdoing in its successful World Cup bid.
Mr. Warner resigned from FIFA in 2011 to avoid investigation by the group about his role in an alleged attempt by Mr. Bin Hammam to buy the votes of Caribbean football officials in his campaign to unseat Sepp Blatter as head of FIFA. Mr. Bin Hammam withdrew his candidacy because of the corruption allegations and has since insisted that he is innocent. Under pressure from Qatar, Mr. Bin Hammam ended an almost two-year effort to fight the FIFA ban.
The renewed focus on Mr. Bin Hammam’s activities comes as Qatar is under severe pressure to reform its labor system, which deprives the country’s majority population of foreign workers of basic rights in accordance with international standards. Mr. Blatter said at the end of a two-day executive committee meeting dominated by Qatar that he would soon visiting the Gulf state for the second time in months to discuss the labor issue. Theo Zwanziger, the committee member charged with monitoring Qatari efforts to address the issue, warned that something had to be done “to remedy the situation in a decisive manner.”
Renewed pressure on AFC president
The disclosure by The Daily Telegraph puts renewed pressure on AFC president Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa to act on the recommendations of an internal audit by PricewaterhouseCooper (PwC) of Mr. Bin Hammam’s financial management of the group. Sheikh Salman, despite electoral promises to the contrary, has effectively squashed the audit that advised the AFC to seek legal counsel for possible civil and legal action against the Mr. Bin Hammam and review or cancellation of a $1 billion master rights agreement with Singapore-based World Sports Group (WSG) that Mr. Bin Hammam negotiated.
“Significant payments (totaling $250,000) have also been made to Mr. Jack Warner for which no reason has been provided. We note that Mr. Warner and Mr. Hammam have been subject to averse media coverage concerning alleged corruption,” the PwC report said. The payments included the purchase of a camera and a Samsonite bag.
A 54-page Singapore court ruling rejecting a demand by WSG that this writer disclose his sources because of an alleged breach of confidentiality noted earlier this year: “Corruption anywhere raises serious questions, as it inevitably undermines good governance. If occurring in international organizations, it would not only undermine good governance but also distort international competitiveness and subvert fair play…. To adapt a well-known dictum, sunlight is the best disinfectant for corruption.” Mr. Bin Hammam’s banning and Sheikh Salman’s moves to squash further investigation of allegations of wrongdoing came amid the worst scandal in FIFA history, with approximately half of the group’s leadership accused of corruption or penalized. FIFA has introduced a number of reforms, but these have failed to remove the taint of an old-boys’ club that is accountable only to itself.
The payments disclosed by The Daily Telegraph are certain to be included in an investigation of the Qatari bid by FIFA investigator Michael Garcia. Mr. Garcia is expected to submit his report later this year.
Qatar denies wrongdoing
Qatar has consistently denied wrongdoing in its bid for the World Cup. It has also asserted that Mr. Bin Hammam, despite his prominent position in world football, was not involved in its bid. Qatar was believed to have been unhappy with Mr. Bin Hammam’s bid for the FIFA presidency because it feared that simultaneously winning the World Cup and the top position in world football might be too much.
Controversy over Qatar’s bid has been fuelled by a lack of transparency on the part of the Gulf state as well as envy and sour grapes on the part of competitors who committed far less funds to their World Cup bids.
The integrity of FIFA and AFC efforts to combat corruption and wrongdoing was called into question by Mr. Blatter himself when he effectively in February 2011 confirmed and justified an alleged Qatari transgression in its World Cup.
The risks that governance of world football will be called into question by the new revelations of questionable payments by Mr. Bin Hammam to Mr. Warner were enhanced by the fact that groups like FIFA and the AFC no longer fully control the issue.
Well-placed sources said that the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is investigating Mr. Warner, including his relationship to Mr. Bin Hammam and the Qatari bid. The sources said that one of Mr. Warner’s sons was cooperating with the inquiry.