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U.S. Lawyer Won’t Hear FIFA Bribery Case Because of Conflict

The lone American on FIFA’s ethics panel won’t take part in a hearing into accusations that a candidate for president of soccer’s governing body offered about $2 million in cash to Caribbean sporting officials.

Yesterday, FIFA said Mohamed Bin Hammam, who’s running against incumbent Sepp Blatter for soccer’s top job, and Jack Warner, who oversees the sport in the Caribbean, will face ethics proceedings in the case. New York lawyer Burton K. Haimes said today that he was stepping aside from the ethics panel, citing his relationships with Chuck Blazer, an American FIFA official, and Warner. Bin Hammam and Warner deny the charges.

Blazer brought the allegations that Bin Hammam offered $40,000 in cash each to Caribbean soccer officials for “football development” at a meeting organized by Warner, who is also the head of North, Central America and Caribbean Association of Football, or Concacaf, where Blazer also works. Haimes said in an interview today that he’s known Blazer and Warner for 20 years.

“I felt because my connection with Concacaf I did not want to make my participation a sideshow or to detract from the seriousness of the matter or whatever result they come up with,” Haimes, an attorney at New York-based Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP, said in a telephone interview.

He’s the second official on the committee to step aside after the panel’s chairman Claudio Sulser said he wouldn’t participate because he shares Swiss nationality with Blatter, who’ll face Bin Hammam in the June 1 election.

‘No Joy’

Blatter in a column today on the Inside World Football website said the allegations “brought him no joy” and claims “that this entire matter was somehow masterminded by me is ludicrous and completely reprehensible.”

In an e-mailed statement today, Bin Hammam said he’s asked for Blatter to be included in the probe because -- as part of the evidence provided to FIFA -- there were statements according to which the FIFA president “was informed of, and did not oppose” the alleged payments.

“The timing of the accusations so close to the election of FIFA president on June 1, 2011, suggests that they are part of a plan to damage Mr. Bin Hammam and force him to withdraw as a candidate for the FIFA presidency,” he said in the statement.

Blatter’s U.K.-based communications adviser, Brian Alexander, declined to comment.

Members Suspended

Last year two members of FIFA’s decision-making executive were suspended after a probe into vote-buying allegations linked to the choices for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. An investigation is currently looking at six officials, including Warner, after new claims concerning improper conduct during the World Cup bidding race that was won by Russia and Qatar.

The hearing is scheduled to take place in Zurich on May 29, three days before the presidential election.

Haimes said there “wasn’t anything personal” in Blazer’s decision to make the allegations against Warner. Blazer ran Warner’s campaign when he secured his region’s presidency in 1990.

“It’s a difficult and tough time for Chuck because of his relationship with Jack but he also owes a fiduciary duty to FIFA and you have to do the right thing,” Haimes said. “Sometimes we get put in a moral dilemma where you built up a relationship over many years and something happens.”

Disciplinary Process

Bin Hammam and Warner could be expelled from FIFA’s board should the ethics committee decide they’ve violated its policies, he added. Amos Adamu and Reynald Temarii, two executive committee members, were suspended following an earlier vote-buying enquiry.

Some critics of FIFA’s disciplinary process have argued cases such as ones against its senior officials should be handled by an outside body, unconnected with the sports organization. Haimes said those concerns have been discussed internally.

“That issue was the subject of a sub-committee that I’m on, discussing how we can put more teeth if necessary into it and it was a very open and frank decision,” he said. “It’s a concern, not only that we are independent but that we maintain our independence.”

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