26 January 2021

Sheikh Ahmad offered ‘inducements’ during 2019 AFC elections

Sheikh Ahmad al-Fahad al-Sabah, President of the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA), offered inducements to Mariyam Mohamed to withdraw her candidature for election to the Executive Committee of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), a Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) ruling has confirmed. As such, the CAS found that the 2019 AFC elections were subject to improper influence by a third party, contrary to AFC and FIFA regulations. However, it reasoned that the 2019 AFC elections didn’t need to be annulled because the inducements were unsuccessful, as Mohamed didn’t withdraw her candidature.

In a letter addressed to the AFC Election Oversight Committee, Mohamed alleged that she was summoned to a hotel ahead of the 2019 AFC elections for a meeting with Sheikh Ahmad. At that meeting, she was allegedly offered other positions within Asian football or FIFA if she withdrew her candidature, and was told she would have no future in football unless she complied.

It is understood that Sheikh Ahmad supported Mahfuza Akhter Kiron, an AFC Executive Committee member who at the 2017 AFC Congress, replaced Australia’s Moya Dodd as the AFC’s female representative on the FIFA Council. Candidates from Palestine and North Korea withdrew on the eve of the 2017 Congress. 

At the April 2019 Congress, Kiron was re-elected as the AFC’s female representative on the FIFA Council over Mohamed. After her election, Kiron was criticised after twice failing to name the female World Champions.

Kiron also heads the AFC Women’s Football Committee. In 2015, former footballer Mohamed was appointed to the Committee (see below), however in 2017 – after Kiron replaced Dodd on the FIFA Council at the AFC Congress – it appears that she lost her seat.

The CAS found that the AFC Disciplinary and Ethics Committee’s failure to complete a preliminary investigation into Mohamed’s claims of third party influence in the election within a reasonable time frame constituted a ‘denial of justice’. It also found that a Decision of the AFC Electoral Committee not to investigate a discrimination complaint lodged by Mohamed was invalid, and ruled that the 2019 AFC elections breached prohibitions on gender discrimination in the FIFA and AFC Statutes. It found that the AFC had failed to fulfil its obligation to promote the full participation of women in the 2019 AFC elections.

Background on Sheikh Ahmad

Sheikh Ahmad has been President of the Association of National Olympic Committees (ANOC) since 2014, and President of the OCA since 1991. He voluntarily suspended himself as a Member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in November 2018, after Swiss prosecutors began a re-examination of allegations made in a 2014 court case that he and three other defendants had created fake videos in order to implicate Kuwaiti government officials. 

In 2015, Sheikh Ahmad was sanctioned with a suspended six month jail sentence for disobeying a prosecutor’s gag on discussing videos that Swiss authorities are now re-examining. It is understood that they involve allegations of corruption involving former Kuwaiti Prime Minister, Sheikh Nasser Al Mohammed Al Sabah and his parliamentary speaker, Jassem al-Karafi. An investigation into the recordings by Kuwaiti security agencies reportedly found the videos to be unauthentic. However, at the time, a Geneva arbitration court found otherwise.

In 2018, prosecutors began examining allegations that Sheikh Ahmad gave the rights to the videos to Trekell, a company purportedly located in Delaware which investigators found to be a shell, reported Swiss newspaper Le Temps. It is understood that the purpose of this was to create the fictional Geneva arbitration dispute between Sheikh Ahmad and Trekell referred to above, in an attempt to legitimise the allegedly fake videos as genuine. 

Sheikh Ahmad resigned from his role on the FIFA Council in May 2017, after documents published by the US Department of Justice (DoJ) concerning the Richard K. Lai case implicated him in allegations of bribery. Lai pleaded guilty to accepting bribes in April 2017.

Sheikh Ahmad was previously a member of the AFC Executive Committee and the FIFA Council. Like CAS, the DoJ documents did not name Lai’s co-conspirators, but described ‘co-conspirator #2’ as ‘a high-ranking official of FIFA, the Kuwait Football Association (“KFA”), and the Olympic Council of Asia (“OCA”)’. That could only be Sheikh Ahmad.

The DoJ documents allege 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’, states the document. 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 DoJ argued that the overall aim behind Sheikh Ahmad’s alleged action was to gain control of the AFC. ‘These efforts were ultimately successful as Candidate #1 eventually was elected President of the AFC and a member of the FIFA Executive Committee, and co-conspirator #2 was ultimately elected to the FIFA Executive Committee, and co-conspirator #1 was banned for life from holding positions in organised soccer’, concludes the document.

Co-conspirator #1 is understood to be Mohamed bin Hammam, whom FIFA banned for life following his resignation. Candidate #1, which the DoJ describes as ‘the then-President of the Bahrain Football Association (BFA)’, is understood to be Sheikh Salman Bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, the current AFC President who stood against FIFA President Gianni Infantino in his February 2016 election. Co-conspirator #3 is understood to be Husain Al-Musallam, Director General of the OCA and Vice President of the international swimming federation (FINA). In 2016, 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 in that year’s FIFA Presidential election.

In July 2017, the IOC launched an investigation into Al-Musallam in connection to allegations that he attempted to negotiate a 10% cut of sponsorship deals signed by the International Swimming Federation (FINA) as commission. The allegations were denied by Al-Mussallam, who alleged that a recorded conversation had been leaked to the media in order to destabilise his FINA election campaign. The IOC does not comment on ongoing investigations, and an outcome has yet to be publicised.

Last year, Al-Mussallam was nominated as the Asian Amateur Swimming Federation’s (AASF) candidate to replace Julio Maglione as President of FINA, and received backing from the African swimming confederation (CANA). This followed Maglione’s re-election as FINA President in 2017, shortly after which FINA’s rules were changed to allow its President to serve three four year terms. Following his re-election, Maglione was approved as Senior Vice President of the ANOC for the Americas at its September 2017 General Assembly. As previously mentioned, the President of ANOC is Sheikh Ahmad.

Until he self-suspended himself as an IOC Member, Sheikh Ahmad sat alongside Al-Musallam as a member of the IOC’s Olympic Solidarity Commission, which provides financial assistance to national Olympic Committees (NOCs) for development projects. Al-Musallam has been personally involved in OCA Olympasia development projects.

In July 2017, it was alleged that Olympasia Project funds were being misappropriated. There is no suggestion that Sheikh Ahmad or Al-Musallam have been involved in this, but the OCA has yet to respond to these allegations, despite evidence of the alleged fraud being sent to Sheikh Ahmad directly.

In July 2017, The Sports Integrity Initiative asked Kuwait’s Public Prosecutor and its Public Authority for Sport to confirm a report that Sheikh Ahmad had been summoned to answer questions about financial irregularities in the budget allocated to the 2017 Gulf Cup of Nations football tournament. Kuwait was due to host the tournament, however it was moved to Qatar in May 2016 due to FIFA’s suspension of Kuwait, which followed the IOC’s suspension of the country for ‘undue political interference’ in sport.

Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah with Pat Hickey…

In November 2016, ANOC approved a €410,000 loan to its Vice President, Patrick Hickey. The loan was to cover a bond which a Brazilian judge ordered Hickey must pay to return to Ireland for medical treatment, after he was accused of corruption regarding ticketing at the Rio 2016 Olympics and detained.

‘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.’

Hickey’s case was due to be heard in a Rio court on 29 November 2017, however the trial as been indefinitely suspended, and has grown infinitely complicated. It is understood that ANOC is convinced that Hickey is innocent and is confident that it will get its money back when Hickey is eventually acquitted.

This is a matter that may also concern the IOC Ethics Commission, since ANOC received US$12 million in funding from the IOC during 2016, as the IOC Annual Report reveals. A copy of ANOC’s 2016 Financial Report, a copy of which is held by The Sports Integrity Initiative, also confirms that ANOC received $12 million from the IOC.

ANOC cleared Sheikh Ahmad of any wrongdoing in connection to the Lai case at its 2017 General Assembly. It re-elected him as President for a four year term, despite his self suspension as an IOC Member, at its March 2019 General Assembly in Qatar. Robin Mitchell of Fiji, Senior Vice President, is currently ANOC’s Acting President.

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