22 November 2018

Swiss case & IOC investigation prompts Sheikh Ahmad to step aside

A Swiss investigation into whether Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah and three other defendants created fake videos in order to implicate Kuwaiti government officials in a 2014 court case has prompted the Ethics Commission of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to launch an investigation, resulting in Sheikh Ahmad stepping aside as an IOC Member. ‘The IOC has been informed about the case of Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah’, read an emailed statement from the IOC. ‘This case is in the hands of the IOC Ethics Commission which, according to the IOC Code of Ethics, is competent for all ethical behaviour of the IOC Members, even if it is not related to sport. Therefore, the IOC cannot give any comments about this ongoing procedure at this stage.’

In a statement seen by The Sports Integrity Initiative, Sheikh Ahmad said that he ‘strenuously denies’ any wrongdoing. ‘It is clear that the whole matter is based on allegations that are maliciously motivated by political factions within Kuwait since 2012 and the matter has already been reviewed and closed in Kuwait’, it continues, adding that Sheikh Ahmad would step aside as an IOC Member and Chairman of the Olympic Solidarity Commission.

In 2015, Sheikh Ahmad was sanctioned with a suspended six month jail sentence for disobeying a prosecutor’s gag on discussing the 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.

Prosecutors are examining new 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, reports 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 the Richard K. Lai case

Sheikh Ahmad has also been President of the Association of National Olympic Committees (ANOC) since 2014, and has been President of the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) since 1991. He was also a member of the FIFA Council until May 2017, when he resigned his role after documents published by the Department of Justice (DoJ) concerning the Richard K. Lai implicated him in allegations of bribery. Lai pleaded guilty to accepting bribes in April 2017.

Sheikh Ahmad was also a member of the Asian Football Confederation’s (AFC) Executive Committee. The DoJ documents (PDF below) 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’, states the document.

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 AFC President who stood against FIFA President Gianni Infantino in his February 2016 election. Co-conspirator #3 is understood to be Husain Al-Musallam, OCA Director General and Vice President of the international swimming federation (FINA). 

There have been allegations that Sheikhs Ahmad and Salman have been involved in manipulating sporting elections before. 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.

Sheikh Ahmad and FINA

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.

Julio Maglione was re-elected as FINA President last year and, shortly after, 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.

Sheikh Ahmad and Olympic Solidarity

Sheikh Ahmad and Al-Musallam are also members 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.

Sheikh Ahmad and the Gulf Cup of Nations

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 and 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 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. 

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, confirms that ANOC received $12 million from the IOC.

ANOC re-election

It is understood that Sheikh Ahmad is the sole candidate for election as President of ANOC at its General Assembly, which takes place at the end of the month in Tokyo. ANOC cleared Sheikh Ahmad of any wrongdoing in connection to the Lai case at its 2017 General Assembly in November last year. Whether ANOC can re-elect a President that has stepped aside from IOC roles due to investigations by its Ethics Commission remains to be seen. FIFA did not return questions as to whether its investigations into Sheikh Ahmad’s role in the Lai case were continuing. 

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