FIFA begins hearing 15 Caribbean bribery cases

October 11, 2011 - 6:45 AM

ZURICH (AP) — The latest wave of FIFA election bribery cases began Tuesday, as 15 Caribbean soccer officials started explaining their part in an alleged plot involving former presidential candidate Mohamed bin Hammam.

FIFA said its ethics committee would hear the defendants over three days, and was expected to deliver verdicts on Friday.

The 15 officials from 11 Caribbean countries are accused of accepting $40,000 cash payments in Trinidad during Bin Hammam's later-abandoned challenge to FIFA President Sepp Blatter.

They were charged after FIFA appointed former FBI director Louis Freeh to continue leading an investigation that began in May.

FIFA's gravest scandal in 107 years has removed two of its most influential powerbrokers — Asian football president Bin Hammam and FIFA vice president Jack Warner — from office after a combined 43 years sitting on world soccer's ruling executive committee.

Bin Hammam, who denies bribery, is appealing his lifetime ban at the Court of Arbitration for Sport, and FIFA dropped charges against Trinidad and Tobago government minister Warner after he resigned his soccer positions in June.

The defendants now facing bans include FIFA committee members Yves Jean-Bart of Haiti and Richard Groden of Trinidad and Tobago. Jean-Bart sits on the associations panel that monitors FIFA's 208 national members and Groden helps allocate tens of millions of dollars of development funding as a member of the Goal Bureau which Bin Hammam chaired for 12 years.

The Haitian official is among five national association presidents answering charges this week, including one of soccer's most senior women officials: Franka Pickering of the British Virgin Islands.

Former international referee Mark Bob Forde of Barbados has also been charged and faces a ban from soccer duty.

Along with Bin Hammam in July, FIFA's ethics panel suspended two Caribbean Football Union members of staff after ruling that they distributed $40,000 cash payments in brown envelopes in a Trinidad hotel.

Caribbean Football Union vice president Colin Klass, a longtime Warner ally, received a 26-month FIFA ban after a separate hearing last month. The Guyana federation president lost his seat on FIFA's futsal and beach soccer committee.

Qatari candidate bin Hammam withdrew his election bid three days before the FIFA poll in June.

Blatter was left unopposed to receive a fourth four-year presidential term, and was endorsed by 186 FIFA members, including most Caribbean islands.

Blatter is scheduled on Oct. 21 to provide details of his promised anti-corruption project to clean up world soccer and its damaged image.