FIFA ethics panel to begin World Cup votes probe

The ethics panel of world soccer’s governing body is set to
begin a three-day hearing to determine whether two voters and at
least two candidates should be barred from the 2018 and 2022 World
Cup bidding contests for alleged corruption.

The unprecedented session that starts Monday 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 argue for reinstatement
before the ethics committee.

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

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.

That process has been rocked by allegations made by the
Britain’s Sunday Times last month. The newspaper published secretly
filmed interviews with current and former FIFA officials that
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 that
appeared to show them offering their votes for sale in exchange for
soccer 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.

The ethics committee had already set a meeting for Oct. 20 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.

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