FIFA bans bin Hammam for life in bribery case

Associated Press
FILE - In this May 10, 2011 file picture Mohamed bin Hammam, chief of the Asian Football Confederation, talks to local media in Port of Spain, Trinidad & Tobago. FIFA banned Mohamed bin Hammam from football for life on Saturday  July 23, 2011 after finding him guilty of bribing presidential election voters. The FIFA ethics panel ruled that the Qatari candidate conspired to pay Caribbean officials $40,000 cash bribes to back his ultimately abandoned challenge to FIFA President Sepp Blatter. (AP Photo/Shirley Bahadur,File)
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ZURICH (AP) — Mohamed bin Hammam's downfall from soccer powerbroker to disgraced outcast was completed Saturday when FIFA banned the Qatari official for life for his role in a bribery scandal.

Bin Hammam was found guilty of bribing presidential election voters just months after he helped secure the 2022 World Cup for his tiny Gulf homeland.

The scandal forced him to abandon his campaign to unseat FIFA President Sepp Blatter, and ultimately led to him becoming the most senior official convicted of corruption in the governing body's 107-year history.

A FIFA ethics panel ruled after a two-day hearing that the executive committee member conspired to pay Caribbean officials $40,000 cash bribes in May for their support in the election.

Panel chairman Petrus Damaseb said the verdict was in keeping with the approach of "zero tolerance of unethical behavior." Damaseb also urged FIFA to consider opening cases against three more executive committee members who joined bin Hammam on a campaign visit to Trinidad.

Bin Hammam's lawyer said he maintained his innocence and rejected the findings based on "so-called circumstantial evidence."

"He will continue to fight his case through the legal routes that are open to him," lead counsel Eugene Gulland told reporters.

Bin Hammam can challenge his life ban at the FIFA appeals body and then the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

"We are confident of the strength of our case and invite FIFA to make available now to the media a full transcript of these proceedings," Gulland said in a statement.

Bin Hammam has claimed the case was politically motivated to stop him from challenging Blatter, who was re-elected unopposed last month three days after the Asian Football Confederation president withdrew his candidacy.

Bin Hammam didn't cooperate with a FIFA investigation or attend the hearing. He wrote on his website Friday, while the FIFA panel sat in session, that he expected a guilty verdict.

FIFA also suspended two Caribbean Football Union staffers, Debbie Minguell and Jason Sylvester, for one year for their part in distributing the bribes at a May 10-11 conference in Trinidad.

In a separate judgment, FIFA issued a warning to executive committee member Chuck Blazer, who commissioned a dossier of evidence, including statements from Caribbean whistleblowers that sparked the case.

Damaseb said Blazer was wrong to have suggested at a May 30 meeting in Zurich that CFU members were under investigation at that time.

FIFA's panel dismissed an additional CFU complaint that Blazer's comment was racially motivated.

Bin Hammam's lawyer aimed a further apparent barb at Blazer, who has represented the United States in FIFA's high command since 1996.

"Our case has clearly demonstrated (FIFA's evidence) was bogus and founded on lies told by a senior FIFA official," Gulland said.

Bin Hammam is the third serving FIFA executive committee member banned from soccer for ethics violations in the past nine months. A fourth, FIFA vice president Jack Warner, dodged the panel's judgment by resigning from all of his soccer positions last month before answering charges about his part in the bribery plot.

Damaseb dismissed suggestions that Warner, who also surrendered his jobs as president of the CONCACAF confederation and CFU, had disrespected FIFA's legal process.

"I think everybody would have wanted him to appear, to stand and justify and ... explain his conduct, and he chose not to do that," the judge said. "He (Warner) is presumed innocent."

The case centered on bin Hammam's campaign visit to Warner's native Trinidad to lobby CFU members. The island nations hold 25 of FIFA's 208 votes and were considered key to defeating Blatter.

However, whistleblowers revealed they sat through bin Hammam's pitch, then lined up outside a different room to collect a "gift." Inside, CFU staff handed over brown envelopes stuffed with $40,000 in four piles of $100 bills.

Blazer's witnesses alleged that Warner told them he advised the Qatari candidate to bring cash that could be spent as they chose. FIFA's code of ethics prohibits officials accepting any cash gifts.

A leaked report said FIFA investigators, led by former FBI director Louis Freeh, found circumstantial evidence that bin Hammam provided the cash, but not a direct link.

Bin Hammam has acknowledged transferring $360,000 to the CFU to pay for the conference, including delegates' travel and accommodation expenses. He refused requests to disclose bank account records and other financial details to Freeh's team.

Bin Hammam's banishment, after nine years as AFC president, leaves the continent without its most influential figure at FIFA.

"This is a sad day for AFC and Asian football," interim president Zhang Jilong of China said in a statement. He said the AFC respects FIFA's decision and acknowledges bin Hammam's "inalienable right to lodge an appeal."

Bin Hammam proved crucial to Qatar's 2022 victory last December. However, his candidacy plunged FIFA into turmoil while it was also fending off fresh but unproven allegations of corruption in 2018 and 2022 bidding.

FIFA's scandal-riddled recent history has seen eight serving and former members of its executive committee forced out of soccer. It faces further embarrassment from an ongoing corruption probe by the International Olympic Committee's ethics commission.

On being elected to a fourth four-year term in June, Blatter promised a zero-tolerance drive to clean FIFA of corruption.

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