Mohamed Bin Hammam, currently fighting his corner again before the Court of Arbitration for Sport, has left senior figures in Asian football in no doubt about his determination to prove his innocence over accusations of misuse of funds.
The 63-year-old Qatari is under a worldwide ban by FIFA though he is clear of two provisional suspensions imposed by the Asian Football Confederation on July 16.
The first suspension was for 30 days, the second for 20 days while the AFC considered how to address an audit by PricewaterhouseCoopers which claimed that Bin Hammam had used more than $1m out of AFC accounts for private payments to friends and family.
Simultaneously world federation FIFA suspended Bin Hammam worldwide for 90 days from July 26 until October 24.
New ethics prosector Michael Garcia needed the time to consider both the PwC report and how to respond to Bin Hammam’s success of persuading the Court of Arbitration for Sport to overturn a life ban imposed by FIFA in mid-2011.
The latest FIFA order bars Bin Hammam from administrative roles within but not from contacting anyone in official positions within football. This may come as a surprise to AFC insiders who believed Bin Hammam was defying FIFA in ‘bombarding them’ (the words used by one source) with emails.
In fact, FIFA has confirmed to this writer that Bin Hammam is not under a communications ban. Presumably, preventing him contacting officers and officials could have been construed as denying him the opportunity to mount a full and proper defence.
Such a communication – sent on behalf of Bin Hammam through his Washington-based lawyer Eugene Gulland of Covington & Burling – was the subject of a lengthy rebuttal earlier this week from Zhang Jilong, the acting AFC president.
Jilong accused Bin Hammam and his team of intimidatory tactics.
The political arm of the AFC has been paralysed by uncertainty over what the future may hold should Bin Hammam score a further victory through CAS to reclaim the AFC presidency of which he was stripped when banned for life by FIFA in August 2011.
Such concerns echo the state of paranoia during the last days of Bin Hammam’s AFC presidency when even visitors to the confederation’s Kuala Lumpur HQ were cautioned to guard their comments while in official cars.
The Bin Hammam issue has been complicated further by statements in the PwC audit about the monopolistic marketing contract entered into by the AFC in 1990 with World Sport Group and its operative subsidiary World Sport Football.
The original contract was due to expire in 2011 but was renegotiated three years ahead of time after Bin Hammam sought significant extra funding to fund a Japanese proposal to launch the Asian Champions League.
Bin Hammam has insisted his financial dealings were transparent. He says all payments were signed off with full and proper supervision and knowledge of senior AFC finance officers. He even commissioned a responsive audit of his own from London accountants Smith & Williamson.
Business associates have told this writer that Bin Hammam believed he had a right to access official accounts because the sums were merely repayments against an earlier personal loan of his own to the AFC.
The fall-out thus far has included:
1, Malaysian police instituting charges against former AFC finance director Amelia Gan and her husband for theft of documents;
2, WSG taking legal action against the scholar/journalist James M Dorsey to demand that he name sources from leaks from within the AFC;
3, FIFA suspending Bin Hammam’s former AFC personal assistant Najeeb Chirakal for non-co-operation with its inquiries.
Bin Hammam’s defence places a question mark against the credibility of acting president Jilong.
When Bin Hammam was banned for life in 2011 Jilong, as senior vice-president, took up not only the presidency but the office’s place on the FIFA executive committee. Subsequently he was appointed chairman of FIFA’s Olympic organising committee for London 2012.
Jilong has been chairman of the AFC finance committee for the past 11 years which encompassed the entire near-decade of Bin Hammam’s presidency (2002 to 2011). Hence if Bin Hammam’s financial dealings were transparent and approved at the highest levels then Jilong might be assumed to have known about them.
FIFA prosecutor Garcia has been reviewing the original case against Bin Hammam which stemmed from the infamous Caribbean Football Union conference in May 2011 during his campaign to oust Sepp Blatter as president of FIFA.
Garcia has been considering whether he should generate new charges against Bin Hammam, stemming from either the Port of Spain bribery allegations or from the PwC audit (or both). Highly significant new evidence would be needed about the original case not to raise concerns over issues of double jeopardy.
The likelihood of all the above is that world and Asian football will be back in the Court of Arbitration for Sport in the spring of 2014.
That would mean further damaging smears being drawn across the image of the game in the immediate run-up to the World Cup in Brazil.
Not an edifying prospect . . . but maybe an essential price to be paid along the road to reform.