By James M. Dorsey
Media reports of questionable payments by a company owned by banned former world soccer body FIFA vice president and Asian Football Confederation (AFC) president Mohammed Bin Hammam to another disgraced former FIFA executive committee member, Jack Warner, raise renewed questions about Qatar's controversial winning of the right to host the 2022 World Cup as well the integrity of FIFA and the AFC's efforts to root out corruption.
The Daily Telegraph reported that the Doha-based Kemco Group wholly owned by Mr. Bin Hammam, a Qatari national who was banned by FIFA in 2012 because of "conflicts of interest" during his AFC presidency and FIFA vice presidency, had paid some $2 million to former FIFA vice president Jack Warner and others related to him shortly after Qatar was awarded the World Cup.
In a statement to the Telegraph, the Qatari committee responsible for World Cup-related infrastructure rejected any knowledge that would call the payments into question. "The 2022 Bid Committee strictly adhered to FIFA's bidding regulations in compliance with their code of ethics. The Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy and the individuals involved in the 2022 Bid Committee are unaware of any allegations surrounding business dealings between private individuals."
Mr. Warner resigned from FIFA in 2011 to avoid investigation by the group about his role in an alleged attempt by Mr. Bin Hammam to buy the votes of Caribbean soccer officials in his campaign to unseat Sepp Blatter as head of FIFA. Mr. Bin Hammam withdrew his candidacy because of the corruption allegations and has since insisted that he is innocent. Mr. Bin Hammam ended an almost two-year effort to fight the FIFA ban under pressure from Qatar.
The renewed focus on Mr. Bin Hammam's activities comes as Qatar is under severe pressure to reform its labour system that deprives the country's majority population of foreign workers of basic rights in accordance with international standards. It also comes as FIFA is debating a change of its rules to make the AFC president automatically a member of its executive committee.
The disclosure by The Daily Telegraph puts renewed pressure on AFC president Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa to act on the recommendations of an internal audit by PricewaterhouseCooper (PwC) of Mr. Bin Hammam's financial management of the group. Sheikh Salman, despite electoral promises to the contrary, has effectively squashed the audit that advised the AFC to seek legal counsel for possible civil and legal action against the Mr. Bin Hammam and review or cancellation of a $1 billion master rights agreement with Singapore-based World Sports Group (WSG) that Mr. Bin Hammam negotiated.
"Significant payments (totalling $250,000) have also been made to Mr. Jack Warner for which no reason has been provided. We note that Mr. Warner and Mr. Hammam have been subject to averse media coverage concerning alleged corruption," the PwC report said. The payments included the purchase of a camera and a Samsonite bag.
A 54-page Singapore court ruling rejecting a demand by WSG that this writer disclose his sources because of an alleged breach of confidentiality noted earlier this year: "Corruption anywhere raises serious questions as it inevitably undermines good governance. If occurring in international organizations, it would not only undermine good governance but also distort international competitiveness and subvert fair play.... To adapt a well-known dictum, sunlight is the best disinfectant for corruption."
Mr. Bin Hammam's banning and Sheikh Salman's moves to squash further investigation of allegations of wrongdoing came amid the worst scandal in FIFA history with approximately half of the group's leadership having been accused of corruption or penalized. FIFA has since introduced a number of reforms that have failed to remove the taint of an old-boys' club that is accountable only to itself.
The payments disclosed by The Daily Telegraph are certain to be included in an investigation of the Qatari bid by FIFA investigator Michael Garcia. Mr. Garcia is expected to submit his report later this year.
Qatar has consistently denied wrongdoing in its bid for the World Cup. It has also asserted that Mr. Bin Hammam despite his prominent position in world soccer was not involved in its bid. Qatar was believed to have been unhappy with Mr. Bin Hammam's bid for the FIFA presidency because it feared that simultaneously winning the World Cup and the top position in world soccer might be too much.
Controversy over Qatar's bid has been fuelled by a lack of transparency on the part of the Gulf state as well as envy and sour grapes on the part of competitors who committed far less funds to their World Cup bids.
The integrity of FIFA and AFC efforts to combat corruption and wrongdoing was called into question by Mr. Blatter himself when he effectively in February 2011 confirmed and justified an alleged Qatari transgression in its World Cup.
In a BBC interview, Mr. Blatter confirmed that Qatar and Spain and Portugal colluded to trade votes for their respective 2018 and 2022 World Cup bids despite an earlier official FIFA investigation that concluded that there had been no vote swapping. Mr. Blatter went on to effectively whitewash the
alleged violation of FIFA bidding rules.
"I'll be honest, there was a bundle of votes between Spain and Qatar," the Daily Telegraph quoted Mr. Blatter as telling the BBC. "But it was a nonsense. It was there but it didn't work, not for one and not for the other side."
The alleged deal between Qatar and Spain and Portugal is believed to have involved seven of the 22 FIFA executive committee votes in the December 2010 awarding of 2022 World Cup to Qatar and the 2018 tournament to Russia, The Iberian bid won seven votes in two rounds of voting before it was eliminated while Qatar won with 14 votes.
The risks that governance of world soccer will be called into question by the new revelations of questionable payments by Mr. Bin Hammam to Mr. Warner were enhanced by the fact that groups like FIFA and the AFC no longer fully control the issue.
Well-placed sources said that the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is investigating Mr. Warner, including his relationship to Mr. Bin Hammam and the Qatari bid. The sources said that one of Mr. Warner's sons was cooperating with the inquiry.
James M. Dorsey is a Senior Fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University. He is also co-director of the University of Würzburg's Institute for Fan Culture, and the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog and a forthcoming book with the same title.