Thursday, December 13, 2012

FIFA Clears bin Hammam of Bribery Charges

In a stunning reversal, the new FIFA Ethics Committee has dropped its investigation of Mohammed bin Hammam's alleged role in bribing Caribbean Football Officials while campaigning for the FIFA presidency in 2011.

The Guardian quotes from Michael Garcia's (FIFA new independent investigator) internal report:
Garcia's decision to close the investigation in to the Caribbean allegations is contained in his confidential report to Fifa. It states: "This investigation focused on events that took place at the CFU meeting in Trinidad and Tobago in May 2011.

"With respect to the events at the CFU conference, the investigation uncovered no new material proof beyond the substantial evidence presented during the proceedings that culminated with the CAS [Court of Arbitration for Sport] decision vacating Mr Bin Hammam's ban.

"Accordingly, the Investigatory Chamber has closed this matter consistent with the CAS Panel's guidance regarding newly discovered evidence."
Back in July I discussed the CAS bin Hammam decision in some depth.  CAS vacated the FIFA decision not because they judged bin Hammam to be innocent -- they actually suggested that he was probably guilty. Rather the CAS strongly rebuked FIFA, noting that it was FIFA's own actions and unwillingness to carry on a proper investigation that led to the weak case that it brought before the CAS (PDF):
FIFA disabled itself from pursuing a proper, thorough and complete investigation of Mr. Bin Hammam’s role in the matters that give rise to these proceedings. In effect, the paucity of the evidence is connected to FIFA’s own decisions.
Specifically, CAS alleged that FIFA prematurely terminated an investigation into the role of Jack Warner in the affair and Sepp Blatter, FIFA President, refused to participate. CAS explained:
[T]here was apparently no requirement to close those FIFA Ethics Committee procedures, as it is plain to it that FIFA would continue to be able to exercise jurisdiction over acts occurring whilst Mr. Warner was a FIFA official. Mr. Warner is at the heart of the events of May 10 and 11, and there is every possibility that if the FIFA investigations of Mr. Warner had continued at least some of the missing facts that have hampered the work of this Panel – facts that go to the heart of the gaps in the events - might have been clearly established, one way or the other. . . the Panel notes that Mr. Blatter declined to answer its questions concerning the circumstances of Mr. Warner’s resignation and the termination of disciplinary proceedings against him, as well as the relationship between these two events.
FIFA's decision to drop further investigation of bin Hammam in effect clears him of the charges of bribery against him. This despite the fact that the CAS judged bin Hammam to likely be guilty of those charges.
This outcome raises the question of whether bin Hammam is due any compensation from FIFA or if FIFA should suffer any sanctions as he was in effect railroaded out of the FIFA presidential election and suspended from football based on claims that FIFA now says that it cannot substantiate according to the due process standards of the CAS. The main beneficiary of FIFA's ineptitude (to be generous) was Sepp Blatter, who ran unopposed for the FIFA presidency once bin Hammam was out of the way. This outcome is a big black eye for the new FIFA investigative capability, and suggests that in practice little has changed in the organization.

FIFA continues to suspend bin Hammam under separate charges of financial mismanagement of the Asian Football Conference during his presidency -- allegations which came to light after the 2011 FIFA presidential election. No doubt, fresh off his surprising victory on the bribery charges, we can expect bin Hammam to fight these charges as well. Who can predict what will happen next? Stay tuned.


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