By James M. Dorsey
The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Wednesday suspended its general secretary, Dato Alex Soosay, pending an investigation of allegations that he had sought to tamper with or hide documents related to an investigation into corruption and mismanagement in the AFC that were first reported on this blog and in the Malay Mail.
In a terse statement that got its facts wrong in what looked like a bid to pre-empt calls for a broader investigation, the AFC said that Mr. Soosay had been "suspended by the AFC following media allegations which have recently surfaced concerning a case in 2012. A video statement conducted as part of a FIFA investigation was passed to media recently and the AFC has now been able to verify its authenticity," the statement said. It said AFC Deputy General Secretary Dato Windsor John would temporarily replace Mr. Soosay "whilst an internal investigation is conducted."
It took the AFC more than two weeks to collect a copy of a video tape on which the allegations were recorded from the date that they were disclosed by this blog and the Malay Mail. On the tape and in a written statement, AFC Finance Director Bryan Kuan Wee Hoong asserted that Mr. Soosay had asked him in 2012 at the time of a damning audit by PricewaterhouseCooper (PwC) to "tamper or hide" any documents related to Mr. Soosay. Mr. Soosay has denied the allegations.
Mr. Kuan recorded his allegations against Mr. Soosay in July 2012 in a taped and written statement to FIFA security officer Michael John Pride who took the statements in his capacity as a private investigator rather than as a contracted FIFA security officer. Mr. Pride did not pass Mr. Kuan's statements to either FIFA or the AFC. Mr. Kuan said on tape that he believed Mr. Soosay's request was related to the PwC audit. He said he had made his statements to have a record should he ever be asked about the issue, not as part of a FIFA investigation.
The AFC has in the past three years sought to bury the audit which warned that multiple payments involving the group's since banned president, Mohammed Bin Hammam, who also served as world soccer body FIFA vice president, potentially could expose the AFC to charges of tax evasion, bribery, money laundering, and sanctions busting. The payments included two transfers totalling $14 million from a shareholder of Singapore-based World Sport Group (WSG) in advance of the signing of a $1 billion master rights agreement with the AFC.
AFC president Sheikh Salman Bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa allowed Mr. Soosay five days after Mr. Kuan's allegations became public to sit on the dais next to him during last month's AFC Congress. Mr. Soosay like Mr. Kuan was involved in conducting the congress's proceedings.
PwC recommended that the AFC seek legal counsel on the possibility of filing criminal and/or civil charges against Mr. Bin Hammam and on whether it could renegotiate or cancel the $1 billion agreement with WSG.
"Our transaction review revealed that items sampled were, in most cases, authorised by the General Secretary or Deputy General Secretary and the Director of Finance. As signatories these parties hold accountability for the authorisation of these transactions. We also note the Internal Audit and Finance Committees were aware of this practice," PwC said referring to both Mr. Soosay and Mr. Kuan.
The AFC has sought to bury the PwC audit, which was limited in scope and resources, because a full investigation on the basis of its findings risked revealing alleged wide spread bribery and corruption in the way the group conducted its business at the time of Mr. Bin Hammam's presidency and could implicate multiple regional and national soccer officials who were named in the audit. It could potentially also force a cancellation or renegotiation of the WSG contract that was never put to tender.
"As (Bin) Hammam was slapped with a life ban from FIFA and quit all football related activities in December 2012, critics believe the (PwC) report has served its purpose. But what about the other revelations made by PwC? There is a lot of explaining to do. We are stakeholders and we demand answers. Silence is not an option," said Malay Mail executive editor Haresh Deol in a recent editorial.
The AFC's risk of being forced into a broader investigation is linked to the fact that the Malaysian attorney general has asked police to submit a report on the allegations of corruption and mismanagement within the AFC at the time of Mr. Bin Hammam. Police sources told the Malay Mail that they hoped that Mr. Kuan's tape would further an investigation that has been lingering since Mr. Kuan days after making his statements to Mr. Pride reported to the police the alleged theft of documents from the AFC's offices.
James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies as Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, co-director of the Institute of Fan Culture of the University of Würzburg and the author of the blog, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer, and a forthcoming book with the same title.