AFC chief maintains allegations despite OCA denial
BRISBANE, Australia (AP) -Threats of legal action have not stopped Asian Football Confederation chief Mohamed bin Hammam from claiming that regional Olympic officials were trying to buy votes for his rival in an increasingly bitter campaign for a seat on one of the key decision-making bodies in football.
Bin Hammam was traveling Monday and declined to expand on the allegations which prompted a FIFA Ethics Committee investigation, an angry reaction by the Olympic Council of Asia and a call for caution from FIFA president Sepp Blatter about the conduct of the Asian election.
FIFA's ethics commission is investigating claims made by one of its panel members that the OCA was trying to influence national football associations to support Bahrain's Shaikh Salman bin Ebrahim Khalifa in his campaign to oust bin Hammam from the FIFA executive committee position.
"Clearly, the OCA cannot leave such accusations unanswered and is now preparing to undertake legal action,'' the regional Olympic committee said in a statement. "The OCA has completely and absolutely denied the allegations leveled on it with regard to the rumors concerning the AFC elections.''
FIFA ethics panel member Les Murray, who conducted a recent interview with bin Hammam for Australia's SBS TV, referred allegations about the OCA offering grants to certain Asian federations to support Salman to the commission.
Murray told The Associated Press that he had evidence from a "highly reliable'' source to support the allegation but would not comment further because it was now in the "FIFA domain.''
Bin Hammam said his claims were based on factual information and would relate details of the information he received to the FIFA Ethics Committee, "that being the appropriate forum which investigates claims and counterclaims.''
The OCA said it denied "the baseless accusations and requested FIFA to name the source.''
Petrus Damaseb, a judge from Namibia who is the acting head of FIFA's anti-corruption watchdog, ordered an investigation after his ethics panel received complaints about both candidates. He said the open dispute between such high-ranking officials was unprecedented.
Bin Hammam claims Korean football officials and the OCA are driving his opponent's election campaign. The Korean FA lodged a complaint against Bin Hammam, saying he used a phrase in a Qatari television interview that could be translated as threatening to cut off the head of its president Cho Chung-yeon, although bin Hammam played down the comment, comparing it with the English expression "heads will roll.''
OCA director general Husain Al-Musallam said bin Hammam's accusations were part of his "unwise election strategy'' ahead of the May 8 vote.
In a telephone interview from Kuwait, Al-Musallam said the OCA's finances were subject to external audits by a leading global accounting firm and internal audits before two executive board meetings each year, as well as regular finance committee meetings.
"Our books are open. We hide nothing. We are transparent,'' Al-Musallam said. "We don't have (spare) cash. Under OCA guidelines, we can't take one dollar to switch from one program to another.''
The vote buying allegations are "absolutely not true,'' he added. "We've never had any breach like which Mr. bin Hammam accused us.''
Al-Musallam didn't deny being a proponent for change in the Asian football hierarchy, suggesting that bin Hammam's style of leadership was too autocratic .
"We stated our position very clearly. Asian football is very divided - who divides Asian football?'' he said.
Bin Hammam said the campaign to unseat him was "not a football against football campaign'' but was coming from outside the game.
He admitted to having a frosty relationship with Chung, a wealthy Korean businessman and lawmaker who is a FIFA vice president. That relationship would have eroded further when bin Hammam proposed introducing regulations that would give the AFC president an automatic place as vice president of FIFA to bring Asia in line with the other continental confederations.
Bin Hammam said that proposed change was recommended by the sport's world governing body FIFA, which wants the AFC to come into line with its statutes.
He also suggested that his introduction of term limits and age limits for AFC officials had caused some backlash against him, but the growing strength in Asian football under his tenure still gave him the numbers to beat Salman in next month's election.
Al-Musallam said the OCA had no official function at the AFC congress in Kuala Lumpur, where the FIFA executive committee position will go to the vote. Bin Hammam says he will resign as AFC president if he loses the FIFA executive committee position.
"We don't take stands officially to support Salman because we're not voting members,'' Al-Musallam said. "But if you ask for my opinion, I will say change is good. We see the situation, it's chaos. Asia needs a leader to unite Asia.
"In sporting fairness, though, we will congratulate the winner.''