Soccer’s governing body has opened an investigation into bribery allegations against FIFA presidential candidate Mohamed bin Hammam and Jack Warner, the official responsible for the sport in North and Central America.
The ethics committee’s probe comes out of a complaint to FIFA’s General Secretary Jerome Valcke by Chuck Blazer, a U.S.- based official who sits with Warner and Bin Hammam on the governing body’s decision-making executive body. FIFA announced the investigation today in an e-mailed statement. Bin Hammam denied the allegations in a statement on his personal website.
The news is the latest blow to the Zurich-based organization’s reputation. It’s already investigating corruption claims against six officials who voted during the bidding races for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. Incumbent Sepp Blatter and Bin Hammam have been canvassing FIFA’s 208-nation membership ahead of a vote on June 1.
Bin Hammam, Warner and two officials from the Caribbean Football Union have been asked to attend a hearing with FIFA’s ethics committee, a statement said today.
The statement said Blazer wrote to Valcke yesterday saying the officials violated FIFA’s ethics code at specially organized meeting between the Caribbean Football Union, which represents 30 soccer nations, and Bin Hammam earlier this month.
“In view of the facts alleged in this report, which include bribery allegations” Valcke called for the investigation, FIFA said.
Bin Hammam, a 62-year-old Qatari, said the allegations were “little more than a tactic being used by those who have no confidence in their own ability to emerge successfully from the FIFA presidential election.”
The chairman of the ethics committee, Claudio Sulser, declined to participate in the investigation because he shares Swiss nationality with Blatter, who’s going for a fourth term. The meeting will instead be chaired by Namibian Petrus Damaseb. He was still in Namibia today. The hearing is scheduled for May
“I just got word two hours ago,” Damaseb said in a telephone interview. “I can’t tell you when I am going.”
Blatter last week said the organization may have to improve its communication, particularly when it comes to dealing with impropriety. He’s pledged a “zero tolerance’ approach to governance and compliance within FIFA if he’s re-elected. He says there are people inside soccer’s governing body that “don’t deserve to be.”
The 2001 collapse of marketing partner ISL revealed some FIFA officials had been paid bribes for decades, according to documents filed with a court in Zug, Switzerland. An out-of-court settlement was made last year. Bin Hammam said the organization needs greater transparency.
The World Cup vote, won by Russia for 2018 and Qatar for the 2022 event, was played out against a backdrop of corruption allegations stemming from reports in the U.K. media. A story by the Sunday Times led to the suspension of two voters after they allegedly told undercover reporters their decisions could be bought.
A meeting with a former member of Qatar’s bid team who told the Sunday Times two officials were paid $1.5 million to select the Gulf state didn’t take place today “on the advice of his/her lawyer,” FIFA said in an e-mail.
Corruption has affected FIFA’s relationship with sponsors that contribute much of the $4 billion the governing body gets from its World Cup.
In October, Sony Corp.’s head of sponsorship said the electronics maker preferred to be associated with the tournament and not the governing body. Sportswear maker Adidas AG in a statement said “the negative tenor of public debates is neither good for the sport of football nor for FIFA as an institution and its partners.”