28 November 2018

Sheikh Ahmad steps aside from ANOC: analysis

Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah has stepped aside as President of the Association of National Olympic Committees (ANOC), the organisation confirmed yesterday. Sheikh Ahmad was the sole candidate for re-election as President of ANOC at its General Assembly, which is currently taking place in Tokyo. 

‘The self-suspension from his functions as President of ANOC by the Sheikh Al-Sabah and the postponement of any ANOC’s elections and decisions regarding him are the most appropriate measures to protect the reputation of the entire Olympic Movement of which ANOC is part of’, read a 22 November decision (PDF below) from the IOC Ethics Commission. ‘Failing that, the IOC Ethics Commission considers that the IOC Executive Board Members/IOC Members could not participate in the ANOC meetings chaired by an IOC Member self-suspended pursuant to the IOC Code of Ethics.’

The IOC Ethics Commission statement outlined that it had accepted that Sheikh Ahmad’s decision to step aside as an IOC Member and Chairman of the IOC Olympic Solidarity Commission, conveyed in an 18 November letter (PDF below), was the result of charges launched by a Swiss prosecutor. ‘By decision dated 8 November 2018, the Public Prosecutor of Geneva submitted to a criminal court an accusation against five persons, including the Sheikh Ahmad Al-Sabah, IOC Member, for forgery’, read the IOC statement. ‘The IOC Ethics Commission finds that the facts involved, punishable by 2 to 5 years in prison, are very serious’.

The IOC Ethics Commission also outlined that it has accepted Sheikh Ahmad’s decision to step aside from ANOC, conveyed in a 26 November letter (PDF below). The Swiss charges relate to allegations that as part of a 2014 court case, Sheikh Ahmad and four other defendants created fake videos in order to implicate Kuwaiti government officials. As reported, a number of other allegations have been made against Sheikh Ahmad.

The International Centre for Sport Security

Sheikh Ahmad was also the subject of a covert ‘Operation Hawk’ launched by former Interpol officers working for the International Centre for Sports Security (ICSS), reports Mediapart as part of the ‘Football Leaks’ investigations. It is alleged that Fred Lord and Javier Mena illegally accessed Sheikh Ahmad’s computer at an April 2015 international sports conference in Lausanne.

Mediapart report that Lord and Mena told Chris Eaton, another former Interpol officer who has also worked for FIFA and the ICSS, that the operation to collect information on ‘K1’ and ‘K2’ was a success. It is understood that ‘K1’ is Sheikh Ahmad. Reporters were unable to verify the identity of ‘K2’, but mention that documents exchanged between Lord and Mena appear to show that the data gathered in Lausanne included information on Sheikh Ahmad’s links with other world sport leaders.

One of those mentioned is Pat Hickey, former Vice President of ANOC. In November 2016, ANOC approved a €410,000 loan to Hickey to cover a bond which a Brazilian judge ordered he must pay to return to Ireland for medical treatment, after he was accused of corruption regarding Olympic ticketing 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 last year, however the trial as been indefinitely suspended, reports the Irish Times. In May last year, The Sports Integrity Initiative asked ANOC if the loan had been returned, but has yet to receive a reply. It is understood that the money may never be repaid.

Other allegations include that although the ICSS identified suspicious betting patterns in relation to a 6 November 2014 friendly between North Korea and Qatar, it failed to alert police authorities. This is despite Eaton indicating, in a 2015 interview with The Sports Integrity Initiative, that alerting police authorities to suspicious betting patterns was one of its major aims. Yet it is alleged that the suspicious betting patterns identified by the ICSS in the friendly with North Korea went no further than the President of the Qatar Football League.

In July 2015, the ICSS was warned about forming a relationship with Aspire by Jake Marsh, a former private investigator who joined the ICSS Integrity Department. Aspire is a youth academy in Doha that has been accused of facilitating the transfer of minors in an attempt to bolster the Qatar national team ahead of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, which the emirate will host. 

In October of that year, a partnership was agreed between the ICSS and Aspire. Marsh left the ICSS in January last year to join Perform Group. 

‘The ICSS rejects outright the distortions, misrepresentations and falsehoods reported by some media today about our organisation and some of the key people who work for and who have worked with us’, read a statement. ‘We can only conclude that these media outlets are either misguided or incompetent, or even worse, driven by a deliberate agenda to create a false and harmful narrative.

‘We say categorically that no crimes have been committed by any person working with, or for the ICSS undertaking sport integrity investigations. This is an absolute falsehood.

‘When contacted by the relevant media with long lists of questions, the ICSS acknowledged receipt of their correspondence, and pointed out that the questions contained considerable factual and assumptive errors. A surprising lack of neutrality, the significant misinformation, the obvious bias and preconception was dominant throughout what seemed to be a random series of points that comprised factually incorrect material inclusive of inaccurate timings, names and references.

‘The ICSS then clearly advised these journalists that they should clarify the so-called information with their sources. We understand this material to be a combination of purchased or hacked documents and/or emails, which, at the very least, needed to be reviewed again by them for authenticity.

‘Our organisation is extremely concerned regarding these stories attacking the ICSS. These stories are highly defamatory and include many false assertions. The ICSS will consider its legal position and review any breaches conducted against the ICSS and its employees’ global data protection rights.’

Lack of credibility

From this ‘Brexit’ beleaguered isle, it is difficult to understand the ‘soft politics’ approach of an oil rich gulf state such as Qatar. The ICSS has never denied that is is funded by Qatar, and claims to have raised issues regarding the exploration of migrant workers building the stadiums for the 2022 FIFA World Cup with the Qatar government. In that interview, ICSS President Mohammed Hanzab denied that the organisation was working for Qatar’s benefit. Critics point out that the ICSS remains 70% funded by Qatar, and there is no evidence that the ICSS has taken any action on safeguarding 2022 World Cup workers, as it claims.

However, a number of allegations have been made against Sheikh Ahmad, outside of the extraordinary allegations against him that are subject to a Swiss investigation. These include his alleged involvement in the Richard K. Lai bribery case, in which it is alleged that he sought to gain control of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC); his connections to officials investigated by FINA for corruption; a failure to investigate that Olympic Solidarity funding was being misappropriated; financial irregularities in the 2017 Gulf Cup of Nations football tournament; and the loan to Pat Hickey in order to pay his bail money after he was accused of corruption regarding Olympic ticketing.

It is significant that the Football Leaks report do not mention the overall aim of the ICSS’s alleged illegal access to Sheikh Ahmad’s files. Perhaps they were investigating all of the above, perhaps not. However, for the moment, the reputation of the ICSS and Sheikh Ahmad remains on shaky ground. 

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