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22 Jul 2011 17:30
Mohamed bin Hammam vowed “justice will prevail” on Friday, despite deciding not to attend a two-day Fifa ethics committee hearing that could see him banned from the sport for life.
The 62-year-old Qatari, suspended from all football activity since May 29, is accused of attempting to buy the Fifa presidency by offering $40 000 cash gifts to Caribbean football officials in a bid to secure their votes.
The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) president was due to appear before a five-person ethics committee panel chaired by Namibian judge Petrus Damaseb at Fifa headquarters in Zurich.
However, a source close to Bin Hammam told Agence France-Presse that he had elected to stay away and leave the case in the hands of his lawyers.
In a fresh post on his personal blog on Friday, Bin Hammam reiterated his determination to overcome the charges but also opened the door for further legal action in the event that, as widely expected, he is handed a lifetime ban.
“I want you all to know that my legal team and I remain confident that the case and the evidence presented against me are weak and unsubstantiated,” he wrote.
“They are flimsy and will not stand up to scrutiny in any court of law; that has been clear throughout this process and it remains to be so.
“If we believe earlier press statements made by or on behalf of different Fifa officials or those working for them, then despite the weakness of the case against me, I am not confident that the hearing will be conducted in the manner any of us would like.
“It seems likely that Fifa has already made its decision weeks ago. So, none of us should be completely surprised if a guilty verdict is returned.
“Rest assured, though, that justice will eventually prevail, whether through the Fifa ethics committee, the Court of Arbitration for Sport or, if necessary, through other courts or legal proceedings in courts where we will be equal and no special privileges will be granted to either party.”
The corruption charges prompted Bin Hammam to withdraw from the Fifa presidential race, enabling his former ally Sepp Blatter to secure an unopposed fourth straight term in office at the beginning of June.
Bin Hammam’s case will be heard alongside those of Debbie Minguell and Jason Sylvester, regional football officials who are alleged to have facilitated the bribery at a Caribbean Football Union (CFU) summit in May.
Neither Minguell nor Sylvester were thought to have attended Friday’s hearing, which took place behind closed doors.
Former Fifa vice-president and Concacaf president Jack Warner was also charged over his alleged role in the affair, but his subsequent resignation from the football arena saw Fifa drop their charges against him.
Blatter, meanwhile, was cleared of wrongdoing after claims from Bin Hammam that he knew about the illicit payments.
Bin Hammam’s absence, coupled with the fatalistic tone of his latest blog post, suggests he fully expects the ethics committee to hand down a worldwide lifetime ban when they deliver their verdict on Saturday.
A leaked initial report by the committee claimed there was “overwhelming” evidence to convict Warner and Bin Hammam of wrongdoing.
Former FBI director Louis Freeh led a subsequent investigation and found that, although much of the evidence against Bin Hammam was “circumstantial”, it was nonetheless “compelling”.
Conjuring images of cash-stuffed envelopes and clandestine meetings in hotel boardrooms, the scandal has cast a dark shadow over the home of world football’s governing body.
Blatter made cleaning up Fifa’s image his key post-election priority, but even a lifetime ban for Bin Hammam is unlikely to mark an end to the saga.—AFP
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