3rd July 2017

Corruption allegations hit Mongolian Olympic Committee

The Mongolian Olympic Committee (MYOX) has been accused of embezzling and misallocating money designed for development projects over a number of years. The Save Olympism Movement (SOM) has alleged that Demchigjav Zagdsuren, President of the MYOX, has embezzled MYOX land worth US$20 million; transferred US$4 million of Olympic property to an MYOX legal advisor; and is still misallocating money allocated towards the development of sport through the Olympic Council of Asia’s (OCA) Olympasia Project.

The CEO of SOM is Baterdene Chimeddorj, a former member of the MYOX. The SOM’s membership also includes former Barcelona 1992 boxing bronze medalist Namji Bayarsaikhan, as well as members of other Mongolian sporting federations.

According to a court judgment published on the SOM internet site, Zagdsuren was sentenced to three years in prison on 27 January 2014 in a case relating to selling off MYOX land, allegedly for his own benefit. It is understood that he later received a pardon under Mongolia’s 2009 Amnesty Law that allowed him to be freed. SOM said that it sent information on this to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) at the time, but alleges that the IOC ignored it.

Earlier this year, Zagdsuren was re-elected as MYOX President for a fifth four-year term, taking his tenure to 21 years. There are no limits on re-election specified in the Olympic Charter, which states: ‘The officers and members of the executive body of an NOC shall be elected in accordance with the NOC’s statutes, for a term of office not exceeding four years; they may be eligible for re-election’.

However, Recommendation 37 of the IOC’s Agenda 2020 states that the maximum term of office for an IOC member shall be four years. This can be extended once at the discretion of the IOC Session. As the name suggests, this is a recommendation rather than a requirement, and is designed to come into play by the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

Alleged Olympasia project fraud

The Olympasia project was formed through a partnership between the OCA and Daimler Chrysler in 2001 to fund the building and development of sporting facilities. According to a report (PDF below) submitted to the OCA, US$100,000 in funding was agreed for a youth sports centre and multipurpose sports hall in Han Ull (22km from Ulaanbaatar) on 29 April 2002.

The report states that the project was completed in August 2003, prior to Daimler Chrysler agreeing to match the $50,000 in funding provided by the OCA. The report states that the US car manufacturer provided that funding on 15 September 2003, after the project was completed.

Pictures on the OCA page for Olympasia Project 4 shows the MYOX headquarters and meeting rooms, rather than the youth sports centre and multipurpose sports hall pictured on the initial PDF. A Google search for the MYOX in Mongolian (Монголын Үндэсний олимпийн хороо) also brings up pictures of the MYOX headquarters, which match those on the OCA page for Olympasia Project 4. An 2012 OCA news article states that the Olympasia grant was used to construct the MYOX’s ‘impressive headquarters’. It doesn’t mention the youth sports centre and multipurpose sports hall pictured on the initial PDF, or referenced on the OCA page for Olympasia Project 4.

Detail from the photo galleries accompanying Olympasia Project 4 show that the pictures were amended in 2011. SOM alleges that the youth sports centre and hall were never built. No further details on the either facility can be found, even when searching using the Mongolian name for the Han Ull district (Хан-Уул). The OCA was been asked to comment on the allegations, however did not respond.

Demchigjav Zagdsuren allegations

The SOM argues that ‘numerous’ letters were sent to the IOC about the alleged fraud by concerned MYOX members. ‘We are not able to see the replies to our letters from the IOC because Mr. Zagdsuren had “privatised” the MYOX’, the SOM spokesperson alleged in an email. ‘We tried to give information in person to some authorities, such as former IOC President Jacques Rogge when he visited Mongolia, but we could not because the MYOX hired the police as guards. We tried the same method during visits of IOC Executive Committee members, but all failed. We still hope that one day, we will see the replies to the letters.’

The SOM alleges that Zagdsuren sold the land on which the youth sports centre and multipurpose sports hall were destined to be built. ‘The Authority Against Corruption found Mr Zagdsuren guilty of selling NOC land to a third party company for his own benefit’, alleges the SOM spokesperson. ‘He was convicted with a three-year prison sentence in 2014. He received a pardon because it was his first offence. He was not acquitted, but that is how he explained it to the IOC. We sent evidence that he is a convicted criminal to the IOC, but it ignored it.’

Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah

Sheikh Ahmad, a member of Kuwait’s ruling family, has been President of the OCA since 1991 and is also President of the Association of National Olympic Committees (ANOC). He has also been a member of the Asian Football Confederation’s (AFC) Executive Committee and as his IOC profile reveals, he has held numerous administrative posts in sport, including being a member of the IOC Executive Committee in 1999.

‘We sent many pieces of evidence to him about this project, but we did not get an answer’, said an SOM spokesperson via email. ‘Finally, the OCA changed and falsified the report of the project to favour the Mongolian MYOX President’.

As previously mentioned, the pictures accompanying the photo galleries relating to the Mongolian project were amended in December 2011. In 2015, MYOX President Demchigjav Zagdsuren was appointed to head the OCA’s Information & Statistics Committee, despite his criminal conviction during the previous year. ‘Sheikh Ahmad told the General Assembly that, for the fifth consecutive term, there would be no elections for any of the office-bearers or the chairs of the various committees, as candidates had all agreed on presenting one name for each position available’, read an OCA statement.

Previous allegations

Sheikh Ahmad has recently been forced to defend his reputation after being forced to resign his football roles after US Department of Justice (DoJ) court documents effectively identified him as ‘co-conspirator #2’ in the Richard K. Lai bribery case. This included relinquishing his position on the FIFA Council. The DoJ document alleges that in 2009, ‘co-conspirator #2’ agreed to provide Lai with US$200,000 to hire a manager for Guam’s football team, but the money was paid into a personal account owned by Lai.

‘The defendant Richard Lai never transferred these funds to GFA [Guam Football Association] accounts’, alleges the document (PDF below). After this, ‘co-conspirator #2 and co-conspirator #3 began using Lai’s assistance in furtherance of their efforts to diminish co-conspirator #1’s power and influence over the AFC and FIFA’, the document continues.

Last year, the IOC decided against investigating a complaint from a FIFA Presidential candidate that Sheikh Ahmad had breached IOC ethics rules by lobbying national associations to vote for Sheikh Salman Bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, President of the AFC, in last year’s FIFA Presidential election.

It is also alleged that Sheikh Ahmad authorised a decision for ANOC to lend €410,000 to Pat Hickey, after the President of the European Olympic Committee’s (EOC) was detained by police in Rio last year. Hickey, who was elected as ANOC Vice President in 2014, was accused of corruption regarding Rio 2016 Olympic ticketing.

The €410,000 was used to pay a bond which a Brazilian judge ordered Hickey must pay in order to return to Ireland for medical treatment. ‘The decision was unanimously approved by ANOC president Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah and all ANOC vice-presidents via a postal vote on 20 November 2016’, read an ANOC statement provided to The Guardian. ‘The payment was made as a temporary loan so that Patrick Hickey could meet his bail requirements and return to Ireland where he can receive medical treatment for a heart condition. The terms of the temporary loan make it clear that it must be repaid to ANOC in full. For legal reasons all other terms and conditions surrounding this bail payment will remain confidential.’

ANOC currently lists Hickey as ‘temporarily self-suspended’. It has been asked if its money has been returned as requested, but did not respond.

In December 2015, a six-month jail sentence was issued to Sheikh Ahmad for allegedly disobeying a prosecutor’s gag by discussing a video involving a purported plan to overthrow the Kuwaiti government. The video in question allegedly involved former Prime Minister Sheikh Nasser Al Mohammad Al Sabah and his Parliamentary speaker, Jassem al-Karafi, who were also accused of corruption.

A tweet from Sheikh Ahmad at the time said that he would ‘not rest until those responsible are brought to justice’. An investigation by Kuwaiti security agencies found that the recordings presented by Sheikh Ahmad as evidence that Sheikh Nasser and al-Karafi were plotting the coup were unauthentic, reported Middle East Eye. This suggested that they had been tampered with, although a Swiss court found otherwise. Sheikh Ahmad later accused the public prosecutor of overlooking evidence. Prosecutors placed a gag order on the case – understood to be the gag order Sheikh Ahmad was accused of breaching.

The OCA, which Sheikh Ahmad presides over, is based in Kuwait and following Sheikh Ahmad’s sentence, it is understood it was given until April 2016 to leave the country. ‘From the ISSF perspective, this dispute began when ISSF President Olegario Vazquez Raña prevailed against the Kuwaiti Minister of Sports and Youth, Sheikh Salman Sabah Al-Salem Al-Homud Al-Sabah in the ISSF Presidential election in December 2014’, read an International Shooting Sport Federation (ISSF) statement announcing an investigation, which added that Sheikh Salman had unsuccessfully appealed the election result at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). ‘Sheikh Salman refused to initiate a change of Kuwaiti state laws to guarantee the autonomy of sport in Kuwait despite intensive attempts by the IOC to convince him to do so […] The ISSF experienced already during Sheikh Salman’s campaign to become ISSF President in 2014 that he showed little sensitivity for a democratic process, the autonomy of sports and ethical behaviour within an election process.’

The statement has since been removed from the ISSF’s internet site. The ISSF has yet to announce the results of its investigation.

The Sheikh Salman referred to in the ISSF statement above is also the Kuwaiti Minister of Sports and Youth. He also held this position in 2009 when Sheikh Ahmad’s alleged bid to gain influence at the AFC and FIFA took place, and in 2011, when two clubs were relegated by the Kuwait FA following the Arab Spring uprising.

It was alleged that the President of the Kuwait Football Association (KFA) at this point – the other Sheikh Salman (Al Khalifa) – had been involved in identifying clubs and athletes that had taken part in protests. He had been appointed to that position by Prince Nasser Bin Hamad al-Khalifa, the son of Bahrain’s king and head of the Bahrain Olympic Committee.

To bring things full circle, the accusations against Sheikh Ahmad in the Richard Lai case are alleged to have taken place to promote Sheikh Salman Bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa in order to gain control of the AFC. ‘These efforts were ultimately successful as Candidate #1 [Sheikh Salman] eventually was elected President of the AFC and a member of the FIFA Executive Committee, and co-conspirator #2 [Sheikh Ahmad] was ultimately elected to the FIFA Executive Committee, and co-conspirator #1 [Mohammed bin Hammam] was banned for life from holding positions in organised soccer’, concludes the document.

Conclusion

It is important to state that although it appears that the OCA chose to change the Olympasia Project 4 page after being alerted to allegations by the Save Olympism Movement (SOM), there is no evidence that the OCA – or Sheikh Ahmad – were involved in the alleged corruption. Although the photo evidence appears to suggest otherwise, it could be that the Olympasia Project 4 money was always destined to build a new headquarters for the Mongolian Olympic Committee (MYOX) and an administrative error was made.

It is understood that the FIFA Ethics Committee is currently deciding whether it will pursue an investigation into the allegations made against Sheikh Ahmad regarding his involvement in the Richard K. Lai case. As previously mentioned, the IOC decided against investigating allegations that Sheikh Ahmad had breached IOC ethics rules during FIFA’s Presidential election last year. The Richard K. Lai case indicates that this may have been the wrong decision.

At the very least, the SOM’s allegations merit investigation. The OCA’s lack of response leaves it open to the SOM’s allegations that it is, at the very least, willing to turn a  blind eye to the alleged fraud. This may just tip the balance in favour of a full IOC Ethics Committee investigation into Sheikh Ahmad.

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