May 27 (Bloomberg) -- Soccer ruling body FIFA opened a probe into its president Sepp Blatter following a request by Mohamed bin Hammam, who is seeking to unseat him in an election.
Bin Hammam and fellow FIFA board member Jack Warner are facing a May 29 ethics panel hearing into a meeting where bin Hammam is accused of handing out about $2 million in cash to Caribbean soccer officials for “development” of the sport. Last night, Bin Hammam said Blatter knew of any payments, and suggested the president be added to the investigation.
FIFA’s ethics committee invited Blatter to attend the hearing in two days, the Zurich-based ruling body said today in an e-mailed statement. Bin Hammam and Blatter are running in the June 1 presidential election. Bin Hammam, from Qatar, and Warner deny any wrongdoing.
In an e-mailed statement yesterday, 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 suggesting 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 on Bin Hammam’s statement.
Blatter, in a column yesterday on the Inside World Football website, said the charges made against Bin Hammam and Warner, who oversees the sport in the Caribbean, “brought him no joy.” He said claims that the entire matter was somehow masterminded by him were “ludicrous and completely reprehensible.”
U.K. sports minister Hugh Robertson said FIFA needs reform after several rounds of allegations of improprieties. Earlier this month, former chairman of the English Football Association, David Triesman, told U.K. lawmakers that four officials sought favors during England’s failed bid for the 2018 World Cup, which was secured by Russia.
Robertson said FIFA needs change in the way that the International Olympic Committee did after a bribery scandal into the award of the 2002 Games to Salt Lake City. An internal IOC investigation led to the expulsion or resignation of 10 members for taking gifts. Canadian member Dick Pound, who led the probe, said the scandal involved ethics violations but wasn’t criminal.
U.K. Parliament also heard allegations that Qatar’s successful 2022 World Cup bid team had paid bribes to secure the soccer tournament, accusations that the Qataris said were “completely false” and based on “worthless” evidence.
A former employee of Qatar’s bid told the Sunday Times newspaper that the country paid FIFA Vice President Issa Hayatou and Ivory Coast official Jacques Anouma $1.5 million for their votes. Both men also deny the claim.
“The FIFA presidential election campaign has descended into a farce,” Robertson said in a statement. “With both of the candidates having allegations of corruption aimed at them the election should be suspended. Sports governing bodies have to be transparent and accountable and change has to happen for the good of world football.”
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