FIFA ethics court to begin World Cup votes probe

FIFA’s ethics court begins a three-day session on Monday to help
decide if two voters and at least two candidates should be barred
from the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bidding contests for alleged
corruption.

The unprecedented meeting in Zurich will shape a tense final
stretch of lobbying before FIFA’s executive committee chooses the
hosts in a secret ballot on Dec. 2. The poll could proceed without
Reynald Temarii and Amos Adamu, who are suspended from the 24-man
body and will plead their case for reinstatement to the ethics
committee.

FIFA president Sepp Blatter has said the ethics probe should
”bring back credibility to football.”

Awarding a World Cup is FIFA’s most important decision, with
each tournament required to earn around 95 percent of the governing
body’s income every four years.

However, the process has been rocked by allegations made by the
British Sunday Times last month. The newspaper published secretly
filmed interviews with current and former FIFA officials which
suggested voters could be bribed, and that bidders were flouting
the rules by striking vote-trading pacts.

Those being investigated have stressed their innocence and
expressed confidence that the ethics panel will find no conclusive
evidence of corruption.

”I have no doubt that I will vote on Dec. 2,” Temarii, the
suspended FIFA vice president, told The Associated Press last week.
He said the ethics hearing would let him show that ”grossly
manipulated” interviews were edited to make him appear
corrupt.

Temarii, the Tahitian president of Oceania’s confederation, and
Amos Adamu of Nigeria were filmed in an undercover sting appearing
to offer their votes for sale to fund football projects at
home.

Asian confederation president Mohamed Bin Hammam also has
defended his native Qatar, a 2022 candidate, against allegations of
colluding with 2018 contender Spain-Portugal.

”I can bet you (that) you will never see any proof,” Bin
Hammam told a Swiss television channel in a recent interview posted
on his personal website.

FIFA has not identified which of the nine bidders it is
investigating. The European contest for 2018 is between England,
Russia and the joint bids of Belgium-Netherlands and
Spain-Portugal. The 2022 race involves the United States,
Australia, Japan, South Korea and Qatar.

An Oct. 20 meeting of the ethics committee already was set to
examine bidders’ behavior when the Sunday Times published its first
allegations about Temarii and Adamu. A second round of revelations
came the next weekend.

Blatter’s former right-hand man at FIFA, Michel Zen-Ruffinen,
was shown telling reporters posing as lobbyists that Qatar and
Spain-Portugal had arranged to secure seven of the 24 votes. A
simple majority is needed to win.

”This is not just a rumor, that’s fact,” said Zen-Ruffinen,
who succeeded his boss Blatter to serve as FIFA’s general secretary
from 1998-2002 and was offering to work as a consultant.

Talk about a Qatari-Iberian plot deepened when it emerged that
during an Oct. 29 meeting of FIFA’s executive committee, Spain’s
bid leader Angel Maria Villar passed a note to Bin Hammam which
translated as ”Congratulations, we’re going to win.” Villar’s
intended meaning is unclear, but witnesses said it happened after
Blatter acknowledged no hard evidence of collusion had been
found.

Blatter is likely to play a big role if the ethics committee
offers up advise rather than binding verdicts on Wednesday.

Led by lawyer and former Switzerland player Claudio Sulser, the
independent panel gets its authority from the executive committee
chaired by Blatter. FIFA statutes also allow ethics decisions to be
challenged at its appeal committee and then the Court of
Arbitration for Sport.

The FIFA president has called his executive group into emergency
session in Zurich on Friday to address the ethics decisions.

The ethics committee also will consider cases against four
former FIFA executive committee members who, like Temarii and
Adamu, are serving provisional suspensions from football duty.

Tunisian lawyer Slim Aloulou, Amadou Diakite of Mali, Botswana’s
Ismail Bhamjee and Ahongalu Fusimalohi from Tonga all reportedly
advised undercover reporters how to bribe FIFA voters and how much
to pay.