Blatter, bin Hammam prepare for FIFA bribery case

May 28, 2011 - 5:43 PM

GENEVA (AP) — With its presidential election days away and both candidates under investigation, FIFA sits in judgment on its worst corruption crisis.

FIFA President Sepp Blatter and challenger Mohamed bin Hammam go before an ethics hearing Sunday run by soccer's governing body. A third member of FIFA's high command, longtime power broker Jack Warner, also faces investigation into alleged election bribery three days ahead of the vote.

At the end of an astonishing week at FIFA's palatial headquarters in Zurich, the ethics committee is to deliver initial findings that could throw an increasingly bitter presidential race into disarray.

Warner, a FIFA vice president, promised further turmoil — a "football tsunami" — after his arrival in Switzerland on Saturday.

"The time has come when I must stop playing dead," Warner told media in his native Trinidad, adding that he's not guilty of "a single iota of wrongdoing."

The ethics investigation begins days of meetings involving FIFA's 208 national members before their annual Congress on Wednesday.

However, the panel can remove one or both candidates from the ballot — and exclude either, plus Warner, from all of next week's business. It can impose provisional suspensions from all soccer duty if it merely wants more time to examine the evidence provided by Chuck Blazer, Warner's American No. 2 at the CONCACAF regional body.

Blazer delivered a file that sparked an explosive round of allegations, denials and accusations of conspiracy among his FIFA executive committee colleagues in the final days of campaigning.

The 75-year-old Blatter is looking to extend the presidency he won in 1998 with bin Hammam as campaign manager and Warner's backing.

All three men under suspicion passed up invitations to attend Saturday's Champions League final — with Barcelona beating Manchester United 3-1 at Wembley Stadium — to focus on their legal defense.

Qatari challenger bin Hammam and Warner, a 28-year veteran at FIFA's high table, are accused of arranging bribes for up to 25 presidential voters on a campaign visit.

Caribbean Football Union members were allegedly offered $40,000 each at a May 9-10 conference in Trinidad, where Warner is a government minister.

Bin Hammam has acknowledged paying for travel, accommodations and conference costs, but denies vote-buying. Instead, he implicated Blatter's camp in a plot to remove him from the election contest, and fought back by successfully bringing the FIFA president into the ethics case.

Though the Asian Football Confederation president denies the bribery allegations, his attacking strategy implies that corruption was afoot.

According to bin Hammam's formal complaint, Blatter broke FIFA "duty of disclosure" rules because he was aware via Warner that payments had been arranged and "had no issue."

Warner, who presides over the regional body representing North and Central America and the Caribbean, faces the most serious fight of his soccer career.

"In the next couple days, you will see a football tsunami that will hit FIFA and the world that will shock you," Warner told reporters at Trinidad's parliament.

Warner dismissed suggestions that the evidence file compiled by John Collins, a former U.S. federal prosecutor who is now a member of FIFA's legal committee, could end his career within soccer's ruling body.

"Why should (I) be hanged now and by whom? The American Chuck Blazer? His American lawyer John Collins? Give me a break, guys," Warner told reporters at Trinidad's parliament.

"I will hold my head high to the very end because I am not guilty of a single iota of wrongdoing. Que sera, sera. I am not remotely bothered," he said.

Two Caribbean Football Union staffers from Trinidad, Debbie Minguell and Jason Sylvester, have also been summoned to the FIFA ethics hearing.

Namibian judge Petrus Damaseb will chair the hearing and present its decisions at a news conference. Swiss ethics committee chairman Claudio Sulser recused himself because he shares Blatter's nationality. American member Burton Haimes also stepped aside because of longstanding links to Warner and Blazer.

The panel hearing the four cases Sunday will be composed of at least three of the remaining 11 retained members, who include Australian TV commentator Les Murray and former France international Dominique Rocheteau. Norway, Panama, Papua New Guinea and Senegal are also represented.

Their duties could continue into next week.

FIFA's administration was assessing evidence this weekend to support allegations leveled in a British Parliamentary inquiry that implicated Warner and five other FIFA executive committee members in seeking bribes and inducements during bidding for 2018 and 2022 World Cup hosting rights.