ZURICH, May 26 (Reuters) - FIFA presidential candidate Mohamed Bin Hammam called on incumbent and rival Sepp Blatter to be included in an ethics investigation as the latest crisis to engulf soccer’s troubled governing body escalated on Thursday.
Bin Hamman, who will face an ethics committee hearing on Sunday over a report of possible bribery along with CONCACAF president Jack Warner, questioned the timing of the investigation and said it could be part of a plan to force him to withdraw from the June 1 election.
This was denied by Blatter who said he got no joy from the allegations against 62-year-old Asian Football Confederation head Bin Hammam, describing the Qatari as a “man whose friendship I enjoyed for many years”.
The pair came face to face on Thursday at a scheduled meeting of the FIFA finance committee at the federation’s imposing headquarters in an exclusive Zurich suburb, a spokesman said.
Finance committee chairman Julio Grondona told reporters: “There was no problem between them, they even hugged in the middle of the room.”
The crisis erupted on Wednesday following a report by CONCACAF secretary general Chuck Blazer on a meeting of the Caribbean Football Union on May 10/11.
FIFA said the event was attended by Warner and Bin Hammam and was linked to the presidential campaign.
Blazer, who like Bin Hammam and Warner is a member of FIFA’s powerful executive committee, reported possible violations of the federation’s code of ethics including possible bribery, FIFA said.
CONCACAF and Asia are the only two continental confederations not to have declared their support for a candidate in the election, with Europe, South America, Africa and Oceania all having said they will back Blatter.
The report sent to FIFA’s ethics committee was prepared for Blazer by Chicago-based lawyer John Collins, a sports law specialist who has worked with the U.S. Soccer Federation.
From 1992 until 1997, Collins served in the office of the United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, prosecuting cases involving bank fraud, securities fraud, and other white collar crimes.
“I have written a lengthy report which has been submitted to FIFA,” said Collins, who declined to comment on the content of the report or the kinds of documentation it contains.
It was the latest scandal to hit FIFA since the controversial vote which awarded the 2018 World Cup to Russia and the 2022 tournament to Qatar in December.
“The timing of the accusations so close to the election of FIFA president on June 1, 2011 suggests that they are part of a plan to damage Mr Bin Hammam and force him to withdraw as a candidate for the FIFA presidency,” said a statement on Bin Hammam’s website (www.mohamedbinhammam.com).
“The accusations also contain statements according to which Mr Blatter... was informed of, but did not oppose, payments allegedly made to members of the Caribbean Football Union.
“Mr Bin Hammam has therefore requested that the investigation by the ethics committee be extended to include Mr Blatter himself.”
Blatter denied this in a column for the Inside World Football website (www.insideworldfootball.biz).
“To now assume that the present ordeal of my opponent were to fill me with some sort of perverse satisfaction or that this entire matter was somehow masterminded by me is ludicrous and completely reprehensible,” he said
“I am shocked, saddened and deeply unhappy about the charges levelled against a man whose friendship I enjoyed for many years,” said Blatter, who is standing for a fourth term.
“It gives me no pleasure to see him suffer public disgrace before an investigation would even have started.”
He also praised Blazer, CONCACAF’s general secretary since 1990.
“I also admire Chuck Blazer’s civic courage and an initiative that resulted from reports he received from within the confederation he administers as its secretary general.
There were no clues as to where Sunday’s hearing could leave the June 1 election, especially if Bin Hammam is provisionally suspended.
The hearing will be chaired by Namibian judge Petrus Damaseb, former president of his country’s football association.
Damaseb, who played at one of Namibia’s top clubs Chiefs Santos, studied at Warwick University in England on a United Nations scholarship after fleeing his country as a teenager to join its struggle for independence from South Africa.
After 1990 he returned to work in the new Namibian government before going into private practice and then being named a judge of the high court in 2004.
Reporting by Mike Collett in London, Mark Gleeson in Cape Town and Simon Evans in Miami; Editing by Ken Ferris; To comment on this story email email@example.com
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