Mohamed bin Hammam's lifetime ban from soccer for allegedly bribing officials in his bid for FIFA's presidency has been overturned by sport's top court.
In its ruling the Lausanne, Switzerland-based Court of Arbitration for Sport said there was "insufficient evidence" for soccer's governing body to expel the Qatari. FIFA acted after asking former Federal Bureau of Investigation head Louis Freeh to investigate claims Bin Hammam paid $40,000 to Caribbean voters in return for their backing.
"The CAS has upheld Mr. Bin Hammam's appeal, annulled the decision rendered by the FIFA Appeal Committee and lifted the life ban imposed on Mr. Bin Hammam," the court said in a ruling posted on its website.
The 63-year-old was the head of Asian soccer when he ran for president of FIFA against incumbent Sepp Blatter. Bin Hammam ended his campaign shortly before FIFA started an investigation into him, and days before Blatter was re-elected to a fourth four-year term as the only candidate.
The verdict is the latest blow to hit FIFA. The organization responsible for the $5 billion World Cup, sport's most-watched event, has faced corruption scandals and is in the middle of a program to reform its corporate governance.
CAS said that although it was upholding Bin Hammam's appeal it didn't mean he was innocent of the charges.
"It is a situation of "˜case not proven', coupled with concern on the part of the panel that the FIFA investigation was not complete or comprehensive enough to fill the gaps in the record," CAS said.
FIFA said in a statement it "has noted with concern the decision."
Earlier this week the Asian soccer confederation said it had provisionally suspended Bin Hammam from any soccer activity following an audit of the governing body's accounts. FIFA said it extended the suspension globally yesterday pending the conclusion of that case.
The Asian confederation today said Bin Hammam is still suspended. The governing body declined to comment further in a statement on its website.
Bin Hammam's legal team welcomed the CAS decision.
"We are delighted with the decision issued by the Court of Arbitration, rejecting all of FIFA's unfounded allegations of wrongdoing against Mr Bin Hammam, allowing his appeal and quashing FIFA's unjust life ban," Eugene Gulland, Covington & Burling LLP said. Bin Hammam will consider his options before making further comment, it said in a statement.
FIFA banned 11 officials, reprimanded five more and warned six following its investigation into a specially convened meeting of the Caribbean Football Union in Trinidad on May 10, 2011, where it was alleged delegates received envelopes stuffed with $40,000 from Bin Hammam's campaign. Former FIFA Vice President Jack Warner, who arranged the meeting, quit soccer amid the investigation.
"Mr. Warner arranged for each of the members present to be offered a personal gift of $40,000 and said that the gift was from the CFU," CAS's written summary of the case said. "The following morning, at an urgent meeting, Mr. Warner changed his story, telling those present that the gift was from Mr. bin Hammam."
Warner described himself as a victim of a "witch hunt" hours after ending a three-decade stay on FIFA's top board.
Source of monies
CAS said its panel wasn't presented with "any direct evidence to link" Bin Hammam with bringing the money into Trinidad or its transfer to Warner and the offer to CFU delegates "for the purpose of inducing them to vote for Mr. Bin Hammam."
CAS said it found that Bin Hammam was "more likely than not the source of the monies" and that his efforts "in collaboration with and most likely induced by Mr. Warner" may not have complied with the highest ethical standards in sports.
The court said it would be possible to re-open the case if evidence related to events in the Caribbean was found by FIFA's new independent investigators. FIFA two days ago named former U.S. attorney Michael J. Garcia as head investigator for its restructured ethics committee.