FIFA yesterday suspended executive committee members Mohamed bin Hammam and Jack Warner over bribery allegations, while completely exonerating president Sepp Blatter in the gravest corruption crisis facing football's world governing body. "We are satisfied there is a case to be answered," Petrus Damaseb, deputy chairman of the Ethics Committee, told a news conference at FIFA's Swiss headquarters. In an immediate response, Warner accused the FIFA Ethics Committee of an "abuse of process" and accused FIFA president Sepp Blatter of making a gift of US$1 million to CONCACAF to spend "as it deems fit."
Warner, FIFA executive committee member Mohamed bin Hammam and two Caribbean Football Union (CFU) officials, Debbie Minguell and Jason Sylvester, were all issued with provisional suspensions, pending a full investigation, which is expected to start in July. Warner, in his statement, vowed to offer a vigorous defence of himself and Caribbean officials, Debbie Minguell and Jason Sylvester, who were also suspended. The ethics panel said there was sufficient evidence to further investigate allegations that bin Hammam and Warner, the CONCACAF president, offered US$40,000 bribes to delegates at a Caribbean Football Union meeting, held at the Hyatt hotel in Port-of-Spain, on May 10-11.
The payments were allegedly made to secure votes for bin Hammam, a Qatari who heads Asia's football confederation, in his campaign to unseat Blatter. The evidence was compiled by American executive committee member Chuck Blazer, who serves as CONCACAF general secretary and treasurer.
Blazer's allegations against Warner appeared to find support in an e-mail sent by Puerto Rico's Football Association to FIFA general secretary, Jerome Valcke, yesterday afternoon, during the Ethics Committee news conference. In the e-mail, the Puerto Rican officials said they were given US$40,000.
"We would bring back the money to FIFA with a check, which would be part of the evidence to be presented to the Ethics Committee." FIFA said bin Hammam and Warner, who serves as the Works and Transport Minister and has acted as Prime Minister, will now face a full FIFA inquiry. If found guilty, they could be expelled from FIFA and banned for life from all football activity. Bin Hammam said the suspension was "unfortunate but this is where we are-this is FIFA." Bin Hammam, who denied any wrongdoing, had asked the ethics panel to investigate Blatter on grounds that he knew of alleged bribe attempts and did nothing about it.
But Damaseb said the five-man panel received "lots of confirmation from every individual conceivable" that there was no evidence to take action against Blatter, who had been in office since 1998. Warner called his suspension an abuse of the process, in a statement issued after the decision was handed down by the FIFA Ethics Committee. "I intend to say a lot more on this matter shortly," he said. "In the meantime, I will vigorously defend my reputation as well as the reputation of the rest of the Caribbean members." Warner expressed disappointment with the way the inquiry was carried out. He said he was given less than 24 hours to submit a statement for consideration by the five-member committee.
Additionally, he said, a member from Uruguay did not have the value of a translated version of his or bin Hammam's submission. "This lack of translation services brings into question the issue of due process," he said. "In addition, FIFA did not have the courtesy to provide me with copies of the allegations before the hearing and only during the hearing were the allegations read to me." Warner, a 28-year veteran at FIFA's high table, has maintained his innocence in the face of the committee ruling that there was a case to be answered. He alleged, in his statement, that the complaints made against him were politically motivated and "designed, among other things, to cause serious prejudice and damage to both Mr bin Hammam and myself at one of the most critical times for the FIFA."
The sidelined FIFA vice-president said he was also shocked and surprised that he had to learn about his suspension through the media, especially having specifically requested, after leaving the Ethics Committee hearing, that he be notified of the body's decision. Warner has warned that a "football tsunami" would be unleashed after the findings of the FIFA panel were released.