The Fifa ethics committee suspended one-time presidential candidate Mohamed bin Hammam and Fifa vice-president Jack Warner on Sunday, while clearing Fifa president Sepp Blatter of corruption.
The committee, chaired by Namibian Petrus Damaseb, heard bin Hammam, Warner and Blatter during a dramatic day that started with bin Hammam withdrawing from the presidential election in which he was Blatter’s sole opponent.
“The Fifa Ethics Committee has reached its decisions,” said Blatter in a statement. “I do not wish to comment in detail. But simply to say that I regret what has happened in the last few days and weeks.
“Fifa’s image has suffered a great deal as a result,” added the 75-year-old Swiss.
Two members of the Caribbean Football Union (CFU), Debbie Minguell and Jason Sylvester, said to have colluded with Qatari bin Hammam and Warner, were also suspended.
The Fifa presidential election will also go ahead as planned on June 1, announced Fifa secretary-general Jerome Valcke after the ethics committee revealed its findings, with Blatter standing unopposed.
“Both bin Hammam and Warner were provisionally banned from future activity in football while a full investigation is carried out” announced Damaseb, who stressed that both men will eventually be afforded “the opportunity to defend themselves”.
In response, Warner upped the ante by indicating that “Mr Blatter made a gift of $1 million to CONCACAF (the Central American confederation) to spend as it deems fit,” the inference being that there had been an attempt to buy CONCACAF votes for the Swiss.
Asian Football Confederation president bin Hammam, 62, joined Warner in slamming the suspension as unjust.
“I have been referred to the Ethics Committee based on evidence which was strong enough in the views of the Fifa General Secretary for such procedure,” he said in a statement.
“However, the Ethics Committee in its meeting today did not find this evidence sufficient to convict me.
“Consequently, I should have been given the benefit of doubt but instead, I have been banned from all football activities.”
Warner said his suspension “has come both as a shock and surprise to me”.
He complained that he was given less than 24 hours to submit a statement for consideration by the committee and suggested the whole affair was the result of internal Fifa political manoeuvring.
“The complaints made in this matter are politically motivated against Mr bin Hammam and me and are 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,” Warner said.
Bin Hammam, Warner and the two CFU officials were summoned to answer corruption allegations but the CFU pair failed to appear despite Fifa offering to fly them in.
Bin Hammam, who was hugely influential in Qatar’s surprise victory in the battle to host the 2022 World Cup, and Warner were targeted after Chuck Blazer, general secretary of CONCACAF, reported possible misdeeds during a May 10 and 11 meeting in Trinidad.
Bin Hammam and Warner were accused of offering $40,000 (28,000 euros) in cash gifts to national associations at the Trinidad conference in return for pro-bin Hammam votes in the presidential election.
Blatter had been summoned to appear before the ethics committee to answer claims that Warner had told him in advance of alleged payments made at the meeting.
He strongly denied that and his version of events was accepted by the ethics committee.
According to Damaseb, Blatter had not been informed of what had occurred at the meeting, but that Warner had asked his advice ahead of it and Blatter replied that he should not hold such a meeting with the CFU.
Damaseb judged that Blatter was not obliged to report his encounter with Warner.
Despite the controversy, Valcke said there was no question of postponing the presidential election, which will see Blatter win his fourth and final term since he came to power in 1998.
Saying there was no reason to postpone the election, he added that Fifa had embarked on a path of political change - as per Blatter’s last manifesto.
This meant, he concluded, that “Fifa has never been stronger or as transparent as now”.