World Cup hosts Qatar, Russia face fresh probes
James M. Dorsey Hürriyet Daily News
FIFA chief Sepp Blatter announces the host country for 2018 World Cup.Three major investigations into corruption in global football are putting the credibility of major football associations and World Cup 2022 host Qatar to the test and could challenge the Gulf state’s successful bid, as well as a massive Asian football rights contract.
World football body FIFA’s newly appointed corruption investigator, Michael Garcia, announced this week that he would investigate the controversial awarding of the 2022 World Cup to Qatar, as well as the 2018 tournament to Russia. FIFA Independent Governance Committee head Mark Pieth concluded earlier that the awarding of two the events had been “insufficiently investigated.”
Allegations of impropriety in the awarding of the two events at the same FIFA executive committee meeting in December 2010 persist, fuelled by the fall from grace of FIFA Vice President and Asian Football Confederation President Mohammed Bin Hammam, a Qatari national, who stands accused of corruption and bribery. Bin Hammam is but one of several FIFA executive committees who have been forced out of office in the last two years because of corruption charges, sparking the worst scandal in the world football body’s 108 year-old history.
Speaking to German television, Garcia said the conduct of FIFA President Sepp Blatter would also be part of the inquiry. Blatter is widely viewed as having failed to put world football’s house in order so that the current scandal could have been avoided. “The more important the person involved is, the more important it is to examine them as well,” Garcia said.
Blatter admitted in February that Qatar had colluded with Spain and Portugal to trade votes for their respective 2018 and 2022 World Cup bids in violation of FIFA regulations, in effect contradicting an earlier investigation by the world football body that denied that there had been a vote swapping deal.
“I’ll be honest; there was a bundle of votes between Spain and Qatar. But it was nonsense. It was there but it didn’t work, not for one and not for the other side,” Blatter said.
The FIFA head was never called to account for his statement or his seeming endorsement of misconduct.
The investigation of the successful Qatari bid cannot be seen independently of a separate FIFA investigation, as well as an AFC investigation of Bin Hammam’s affairs. Bin Hammam, despite repeated Qatari denials, was closely associated with the bid, according to sources close to both the world and the Asian football body. They said the investigations were likely to call into question the Qatari efforts to distance the Gulf state’s bid from Bin Hammam.
The FIFA investigation is focused on charges that Bin Hammam bribed Caribbean football officials to support his foiled challenge last year against Blatter in FIFA’s presidential elections. Bin Hammam is believed to have had Qatari endorsement for his presidential bid.
The Court of Arbitration of Sports (CAS) earlier this year overturned FIFA’s life-time ban from football against Bin Hammam for the alleged bribery on the grounds of insufficient evidence but added that the ruling was not a declaration of innocence.
CAS justified its ruling in part on the grounds that a report by the Freeh Group that served as part of the basis on which Bin Hammam was banned consisted of little more than circumstantial evidence.
The AFC has raised questions about the sincerity of its investigation by hiring the group despite CAS’ rejection of its earlier work. The group has been tasked with further investigating the findings of a report by PriceWaterhouse Cooper (PwC) that said Bin Hammam had used an AFC sundry account as his personal account and raised questions about his negotiation of a $1 billion marketing and rights contract with Singapore-based World Sport Group (WSG), a $300 million contract with the Qatar-owned Al-Jazeera television network and payments of $14 million to Bin Hammam by entities belonging to a Saudi businessman with a vested interest in the WSG deal. The PwC report further suggested that there may have been cases of AFC money laundering, tax invasion, bribery and busting of U.S. sanctions against Iran and North Korea under Bin Hammam’s leadership.
Credibility on the line
Sources close to the AFC admitted that the Asian body was putting its credibility on the line by hiring the company that CAS had so criticized.
The AFC investigation further sets the stage for a more AFC exhaustive inquiry into Bin Hammam’s affairs, as well as an independent probe by Malaysian judicial authorities. The Kuala Lumpur-based AFC has until early September under Malaysian law to report that it has, on the basis of the PwC report, reasonable suspicion of a legal offence.
The WSG master rights agreement (MRA) that, according to sources close to the AFC, handed the football body’s assets embodied in its rights to the company is certain to be at the core of both investigations. PwC questioned the fact that the contract, as well as the agreement with Al-Jazeera, had been awarded without being putting out to tender or conducted with financial due diligence. Sources close to the AFC said the contract awarded WSG all the benefits while ensuring that the AFC retained the potential liabilities. PwC said the contract failed to give the AFC a right to audit WSG’s services or costs.
Sources close to the AFC said the football body had, unlike most international sports bodies, concluded a service provider rather than a master rights agreement with WSG that would have given the football group greater control of its rights and ability to determine how they are exploited, as well as strengthened its ability it to continuously supervise the quality of services provided by WSG.