Africa in 2022 World Cup storm
Harare ‑ African football is in the eye of a 2022 World Cup bribery storm with its leader Issa Hayatou, dozens of leaders of national associations and iconic footballer George Weah all caught up in a hurricane that threatens to tear the game apart.
The Sunday Times of Britain published latest documents from a whistleblower in which the newspaper claims Hayatou was one of the officials tainted by a secretive multi-million-dollar corruption ring run by the Qataris to ensure that they fraudulently win the bid to host the 2022 World Cup.
The newspaper claims it has evidence that (Mohamed) bin Hammam, a former FIFA vice-president, had a US$5 million slush fund that was used to make corrupt payments to FIFA executive committee members, who voted in the poll, and other influential football leaders to rally behind Qatar’s bid to host the tournament.
About 30 leaders of African national football associations are reported to have received such payments, which were either paid directly into the accounts of the federations or into secret accounts with Bin Hammam’s daughter allegedly making some of the payments.
The African football leaders and personalities were flown on private jets, showered with expensive gifts, and huge benefit and information related to all this is contained in emails, faxes, accounts and dozens of bank transfer slips obtained by the Sunday Times.
Many of the leaders allegedly received thousands of pounds in cash and most of the money was paid from Kemco Construction Company, owned by Bin Hammam.
While Africa had four votes on the FIFA executive committee in the World Cup hosting bids, Hammam decided to splash cash across the entire continent because he believed that the members of CAF had collective influence on how their leaders voted at FIFA.
The payments, according to the newspaper, were made to virtually all the officials who sit on the CAF executive committee and nine others who sit on the standing committees of the FIFA executive.
Three years ago, British MPs in the House of Commons, also acting on documents supplied by the Sunday Times, claimed that Hayatou was allegedly paid £1.5 million by Hammam for his 2022 World Cup vote, the same amount the legislators claimed was also paid to Jacques Anouna, a FIFA executive committee member from Cote d’Ivoire and his Nigerian counterpart, Amos Adamu.
Adamu was suspended and prevented from the voting process after he was caught up in a Sunday Times sting with reporters from the newspapers going under cover, and posing as businessmen, who filmed him admitting that he will take a gift in exchange for voting for Qatar.
The Nigerian official was subsequently banned from football by a FIFA Ethics Committee but has since completed his ban.
But, while football fans across the continent are used to seeing their leaders being sucked into controversy, the difference with the Qatar 2022 World Cup storm is that it is also sucking in the game’s greatest players with Weah, the only African player to win the World Player of the Year award, being dragged into the controversy.
Documents in possession of the Sunday Times show that Weah was one of the football personalities roped in by Bin Hammam to boost the Qatar 2022 World Cup bid and, for that, he received certain payments, including some money to help the candidate of the Liberia Football Association backed by the former AC Milan forward.
“I write because after meeting with the President (Bin Hammam), he told me to pass on my contact and bank details information to you urgently,” an e-mail from Weah to Bin Hammam’s personal assistant, on January 25, 2010, reads and provides details of Weah’s Bank of America account in Pembroke Prines, Florida, United States.
Lenn Eugene Nagbe, a former Secretary-General of the Congress for Democratic Change in Liberia and current Minister of Youth and Sport, also wrote to Bin Hammam, on January 25, 2010, through his assistant, Najeen Chikarai, asking for US$50 000 to help one of the people battling for the Liberia Football Association presidency.
Nagbe claims in the e-mail that the issue was discussed with Weah.
“I spoke to George further today and informed him that we will need to inject additional cash into the lady's campaign if we are to make the impact we need to make,” Nagbe wrote.
“Conservatively, an amount of about US$50 000 will be needed additionally to lock the election down.
I suggest that since George is in Doha with you, both of you conclude on this so that we can start moving right away as time is not on our side.”
Izetta Wesley, then candidate for the LFA presidency, then received US$10 000 from Bin Hammam and when Qatar won the 2018 World Cup bid, she wrote to show her appreciation:
“I had a wonderful time and was privileged to (see) that part of the world. I will always cherish these memories. Thanks for all the beautiful gifts.”
Hayatou has dismissed the allegations.
“Mr Hayatou has never received any money from Mr Bin Hammam, the Emir of Qatar or any member of the Qatar 2022 Bidding Committee; on the other hand the Sunday Times asked Mr Hayatou what the subject of the meeting was between the Emir of Qatar and President of Cameroon,” Hayatou said in a statement published on the CAF website.
“Mr Hayatou questioned the level of professionalism and the allegations as there was no such meeting between Emir of Qatar and President of Cameroon.
“(The) allegation that Mr Bin Hammam arranged for medical treatment for Hayatou at a private clinic after he voted for Qatar 2022, no such arrangement was made and is a pure invention.
The only treatment Mr Hayatou received in Qatar related to a dialysis session in Doha in early January 2011 during the AFC Congress, for which as usual, he was invited.
“After that the Sunday Times asked if Mr Hayatou was aware of payments made by Mr Bin Hammam to some presidents of African football federations and if any such payments influenced his vote, Mr Hayatou said he was not aware.
“On accusations of being offered luxury and business class flight tickets and others, Mr Hayatou said the allegation was a lie meant to manipulate public opinion. Mr Hayatou has never accepted any flight tickets or any privileges from Qatar2022.
“In January 2011, he was accommodated in Doha for two nights by the AFC during the AFC Congress, a principal applied worldwide during confederations' congress.
“Mr Hayatou will not allow journalists once again to attack his integrity and reputation. Such allegations are meant to discredit not only him as a person but the whole continent.
“Like in 2011, the CAF president is waiting for the famous evidence from the Sunday Times and reserves the right to take legal action against any of those responsible for the smear campaign against him.”