KUALA LUMPUR: The Asian Football Confederation has suspended its chief Mohamed bin Hammam for 30 days over fresh corruption allegations in a new blow to the under-fire Qatari's efforts to clear his name.
Bin Hammam, 63, has been fighting charges he tried to buy FIFA delegate votes in campaigning to unseat the world body's long-standing president Sepp Blatter in a leadership election last year.
The scandal earned him a FIFA life ban from football and he was provisionally replaced after nine years as president of Asia's football governing body pending appeals.
But the Kuala Lumpur-based AFC said in a statement posted on its website late Monday that it had handed bin Hammam a 30-day suspension the day before, following an external audit of the confederation's financial accounts.
The audit concerned “the negotiation and execution of certain contracts and with the financial transactions made in and out of AFC bank accounts and his personal account during the tenure of Mr Bin Hammam's presidency,” it said.
The audit was performed by international audit firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, it said. Bin Hammam is suspended “from taking part in any kind of football activity in the area of jurisdiction of the AFC until the AFC Disciplinary Committee reaches a decision on the merits in the present matter,” it added.
The statement said the alleged infringements included violations of AFC statutes on ethics, corruption, conflicts of interest, bribery and accepting gifts and other benefits.
But it gave no specifics and said it would not comment further on the case for the time being. An AFC spokesman declined comment to AFP.
The fresh allegations look likely to complicate bin Hammam's efforts to regain leadership of the AFC.
He was sidelined by the body last year and replaced on an interim basis by Zhang Jilong, China's former soccer boss.
AFP was not immediately able to reach bin Hammam or Zhang for comment.
Bin Hammam has denied wrongdoing in the FIFA presidential challenge, saying cash hand-outs he made during the election were merely gifts.
He describes the charges and his punishment by FIFA as politically motivated. A one-time close associate of the powerful Blatter, the two became estranged following a falling-out.
Bin Hammam lost an appeal with FIFA over his life ban and has since lodged a further appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Switzerland.
Besides painting a corrupt picture of FIFA, the revelations also focused attention on Qatar's successful bid to host the 2022 World Cup, in which bin Hammam played a key role, and sparked calls for reform of FIFA's governance structure.
Bin Hammam was seen as a moderniser of Asian football after overseeing the launch of the AFC Champions League and the admission of Australia into the regional body. But he also raised hackles with his leadership style.
A decision in his appeal before the CAS was expected imminently.
If he loses, bin Hammam's football career is effectively over – and the AFC would face leadership elections either at an emergency congress or at its next scheduled gathering in May 2013.
Interim chief Zhang has not publicly declared his future intentions.
But in February, he told an AFC gathering in the Chinese city of Macau that he was eager to remain permanently, according to a report at the time by Hong Kong's South China Morning Post.
Peter Velappan, who was AFC general secretary for 30 years and a bitter rival of bin Hammam's, said the new suspicions cement Zhang's chances of taking over permanently.
“It clears the way for Zhang to press ahead as possible candidate for AFC presidency,” he told AFP.
“(The) AFC should not waste any time. There is widespread feeling among AFC members that Zhang should be the new president.”