ZURICH: Asian football supremo Mohamed bin Hammam was on Saturday banned from the game for life after being found guilty of corruption following a two-day hearing of FIFA's ethics committee.
The 62-year-old Qatari, the president of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), had been accused of trying to buy votes in the FIFA presidential election with $40,000 cash gifts to Caribbean football officials.
“The official Mr Bin Hammam is hereby banned from taking part in any kind of football-related activity at national or international level for life,”announced ethics committee deputy chairman Petrus Damaseb.
Bin Hammam did not attend the hearing, which took place behind closed doors at FIFA headquarters in Zurich, but he told AFP in a telephone conversation on Saturday evening that he intended to appeal.
He specified that the first step would consist of making an appeal to FIFA, but he has previously declared that he is prepared to take his case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) and, if necessary, the civil courts.
Bin Hammam, the most high-ranking FIFA figure to be convicted of corruption, also reacted to the decision on his blog by publishing a scanned copy of a personal letter sent to him by FIFA president Sepp Blatter in 2008.
In the letter, which Blatter addressed to “My dear brother,” Bin Hammam highlighted a phrase in which the 75-year-old Swiss had written: “Without you, dear Mohamed, none of this would ever have been possible”.
Below the letter were the words: “This is only the battle, not the war...”— suggesting that he holds Blatter at least partly responsible for his fate.
The head of Bin Hammam's legal team, Eugene Gulland, read out a statement from him after the verdict was announced.
“Mr Bin Hammam rejects the findings of the FIFA ethics committee hearing and maintains his innocence,” said Gulland. “He will continue to fight his case through the legal routes that are open to him.
“The FIFA ethics committee has apparently based its decision on so-called 'circumstantial evidence', which our case has clearly demonstrated was bogus and founded on lies told by senior FIFA officials.”
Whistle-blowers said Bin Hammam tried to bribe officials to vote for him by distributing cash-stuffed envelopes during a Caribbean Football Union (CFU) meeting in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, on May 10-11.
CFU officials Debbie Minguell and Jason Sylvester, also being investigated by the ethics committee over claims they helped hand out the money, were each banned from football-related activity for a year.
In addition, Damaseb revealed that the committee had rejected an accusation of racial discrimination made by CFU members against CONCACAF general secretary Chuck Blazer, who sparked the initial investigation into the bribery claims.
However, Blazer was warned over comments he made at a CONCACAF meeting on May 30 that certain CFU members were “under investigation”, which FIFA said was “not true”.
Former FIFA vice-president and CONCACAF president Jack Warner was also charged over his alleged role in the affair, but his resignation from FIFA last month prompted the organisation to drop all the charges against him.
Damaseb admitted that Warner's absence from the proceedings was a matter of regret. “Mr Jack Warner chose to resign and by that action he placed himself beyond the jurisdiction of this committee,” said Damaseb.
“Everyone would have wanted him to appear and face the charges and explain his conduct, but he chose not to do that.”
Damaseb also said that the evidence reviewed by the committee during the hearing had yielded grounds for investigations into the conduct of other parties, but he did not reveal who they were.
Bin Hammam's withdrawal from the presidential election gifted a fourth straight term in office to his former ally Blatter, who made cleaning up FIFA's tarnished image a post-election priority.
The Qatari, who had been instrumental in winning the hosting rights of the 2022 World Cup for his tiny Gulf state, had expected to be punished by the ethics committee.
“It seems likely that FIFA has already made its decision weeks ago,” he wrote on his blog in the build-up to the hearing.
“So none of us should be completely surprised if a guilty verdict is returned.”
Acting AFC president Zhang Jilong, the favourite to succeed Bin Hammam at the head of the organisation, said it was “a sad day for AFC and Asian football.”
He added: “AFC respects world football governing body FIFA's decision and we also acknowledge former AFC president Mohamed bin Hammam's inalienable right to lodge an appeal against the decision.”