FIFA urged to launch new bribery investigations

July 25, 2011

After banishing Mohamed bin Hammam for life in a bribery scandal, FIFA was challenged Monday to uphold its zero-tolerance fight against corruption by further examining a now-infamous meeting in Trinidad.

A wider inquiry must consider three more members of FIFA's executive committee who accompanied the Qatari official on his presidential campaign visit and all the Caribbean soccer leaders allegedly receiving his $40,000 cash gifts, the Transparency International global watchdog said.

A request by FIFA for new investigations will keep the focus on corruption this week as Sepp Blatter and his organization gather in Brazil for the 2014 World Cup qualifying draw Saturday.

Adding to the governing body's unease is bin Hammam's reiterated pledge Monday to fight his life ban through all legal channels in Switzerland. That could result in FIFA and Qatar being tainted by corruption claims for at least 18 months. The 2022 World Cup host has been working hard to quash allegations it won the hosting rights by unethical means.

Top FIFA administrator Jerome Valcke must decide how deep to delve into the most serious scandal in the body's 107-year history.

''Everything has to be investigated,'' TI sports adviser Sylvia Schenk told The Associated Press. ''Regarding this meeting there (in Trinidad), regarding other members of the executive committee having taken part in this meeting, and regarding all the delegates. If bin Hammam is punished for giving money, someone has to be punished for taking money. It can't be otherwise.''

Bin Hammam's allies on FIFA's 24-man ruling panel - Worawi Makudi of Thailand, Vernon Manilal Fernando of Sri Lanka and Egypt's Hany Abou Rida - accompanied him on a trip to woo Caribbean voters.

FIFA's code of ethics code requires that ''officials shall report any evidence of violations of conduct to the FIFA secretary general,'' but all three told FIFA investigators that they saw no evidence of wrongdoing in Trinidad.

Up to 15 Caribbean Football Union member countries are under suspicion of accepting $40,000 bribes to back bin Hamman's challenge to FIFA president Blatter, then denying it happened.

Ethics panel chairman Petrus Damaseb, a judge from Namibia, said Saturday he'd asked Valcke to open other cases. Schenk said Damaseb's lack of authority to take up cases was a flaw in FIFA's process.

Evidence presented to Damaseb's five-man panel that convicted bin Hammam included statements from witnesses representing nine CFU members.

The whistleblowers' testimony could lead to long bans for their Caribbean colleagues, some of whom rejected offers to meet with FIFA's investigators led by former FBI director Louis Freeh.

Montserrat soccer president Vincent Cassell told the AP that scheduled interviews with Freeh in the Bahamas clashed with the opening 2014 World Cup qualifier against Belize - ironically, played in neutral Trinidad.

''We had to make a choice. We weren't involved in whatever they are talking about,'' Cassell said of the bribery allegations. ''So we didn't see it as a priority. Montserrat is a very small fry in the world of football. I didn't think they would see us as important.''

Bin Hammam, the Asian Football Confederation president since 2002, is the most senior soccer official to be found guilty of corruption.

He wrote to his ''dear brother'' member nation presidents on Monday asking for understanding why he wouldn't resign as AFC leader, or his 15-year grip on a FIFA executive seat, to clear his name.

''I have all the right to fight against this shameful decision,'' wrote bin Hammam, who can challenge FIFA at its appeals committee, the Court of Arbitration for Sport and the Swiss Federal Tribunal.

Bin Hammam's downfall as a FIFA powerbroker has been sudden and sharp since helping his native Qatar's shock victory, ultimately over the United States, to be voted 2022 World Cup host last December. Qatari soccer leaders have refused to comment on bin Hammam's troubles.

For FIFA and Blatter, the blight on his former election rival's personal reputation has not yet damaged the emirate's 2022 project, despite calls by executive committee newcomer Theo Zwanziger of Germany to re-examine how the bid won.

FIFA has said it requires fresh evidence of wrongdoing before casting any doubt on Qatar.

One line of attack for Qatar's critics was closed this month when claims that FIFA voters, including African soccer president Issa Hayatou, were paid $1.5 million were suddenly withdrawn by whistleblower Phaedra Almajid.

Contending she was neither coerced not paid to surrendered her anonymity, Almajid identified herself as an embittered former bid spokeswoman who wanted to harm her one-time employer.

Hayatou is still under suspicion of taking unethical payments, as the International Olympic Committee looks into a British report into kickbacks allegedly paid by FIFA's former marketing agency partner in the 1990s.

The BBC's Panorama program also alleged that Hayatou's fellow IOC member, Joao Havelange, who was Blatter's predecessor as FIFA president, took a $1 million payment. FIFA has refused to investigate that case, which was the subject of a Swiss criminal trial in 2008 involving six marketing agency executives.

As FIFA is linked to a lengthening list of scandals, Schenk believes another approach is needed.

''You will never get peace within FIFA if you don't have an independent investigation,'' said Schenk, a German and former Olympic runner and one-time board member of the International Cycling Union. ''The problem for FIFA is that they have to start changing the culture. The problems haven't been finished just by punishing bin Hammam.''