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#FIFA ethics review : Five of the seven men hoping to succeed Sepp Blatter

By Tajuddin
In Uncategorized
Nov 12th, 2015
Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim al-Khalifa, president of the Asian soccer confederation, in Manama, Bahrain, in April. Credit Mohammed Al-Shaikh/Agence France-Presse

Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim al-Khalifa, president of the Asian soccer confederation, in Manama, Bahrain, in April. Credit Mohammed Al-Shaikh/Agence France-Presse

Zurich (Agencies + DIPLOMAT.SO)- Five of the seven men hoping to succeed Sepp Blatter as president of FIFA, the governing body of world soccer, have passed an internal ethics review and have been formally cleared to run in a February election, the group’s electoral committee announced on Thursday.

The electoral committee rejected the candidacy of Musa Bility of Liberia, “in view of the content of the integrity check report relating to him,” but declined to be more specific, saying it had explained its decision to him privately.

The seventh candidate, Michel Platini of France, the head of the European confederation UEFA, submitted paperwork to enter the race on Oct. 8, only hours before he was provisionally suspended by FIFA amid a corruption investigation by the Swiss authorities.

The chairman of the electoral committee, Domenico Scala, has said he will not consider the candidacy of Mr. Platini, who was once regarded as the favorite to replace Mr. Blatter, or perform an ethics review of him until the suspension is lifted. Mr. Platini has denied any wrongdoing.

But the announcement regarding the remaining five candidates was also not without controversy.

The organization approved Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim al-Khalifa, president of the Asian soccer confederation and a member of Bahrain’s royal family. Rights activists have accused him of playing a part in the jailing and torture of soccer players from Bahrain who peacefully demonstrated against his family’s rule during the Arab Spring in 2011.

Sheikh Salman has long denied the allegations, calling them “nasty lies” in an interview with the BBC last month.

Rights advocates have held firm. “If FIFA has any hope to move past corruption and scandal, it must begin by disqualifying Sheikh Salman from the presidential race,” Husain Abdulla, executive director of Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain, said in an email.

With the help of a private investigative firm, FIFA prepared detailed files on all candidates in recent months; they included background checks and information on financial and criminal histories. A three-person review board, led by Mr. Scala, studied those files and voted on each candidate.

In addition to Sheikh Salman, FIFA approved the candidacies of Prince Ali bin al-Hussein of Jordan, Jérôme Champagne of France, Gianni Infantino of Switzerland and Tokyo Sexwale of South Africa.

Those five names will appear on the election ballot on Feb. 26, when the 209 member associations of FIFA will cast their votes.

Andreas Bantel, a spokesman for Mr. Scala, said in an email that the committee had taken the Bahrain allegations against Sheikh Salman into account. “No evidence has been found with regard to any personal and direct involvement of Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim al-Khalifa into these alleged activities,” Mr. Bantel wrote. “The ad hoc electoral committee concluded that there were no grounds to disqualify his candidacy.”

Mr. Abdulla’s group and other rights advocates asked FIFA to investigate the accusations against Sheikh Salman as early as 2013, when he was elected president of the Asian confederation.

The activists specifically charged that Sheikh Salman had led a committee that studied pictures of pro-democracy demonstrations and identified athletes who had participated in them. At least three soccer players, the groups said, were later detained and tortured; upon their release, they were exiled from the Bahrain national team.

“Everything we have presented, from the testimonies of tortured soccer players to the Bahrain Football Association statements, are already on the public record,” Mr. Abdulla wrote in the email. “The crackdown is an incontestable fact.”

In response to the allegations, Sheikh Salman told the BBC in 2012 that there was no evidence of his involvement and that he was not responsible for protecting athletes who “did something wrong” off the field.

Michael J. Garcia, a lawyer who conducted ethics investigations for FIFA before resigning in 2014, declined to examine the accusations against Sheikh Salman in past years.

In an Oct. 2, 2013, letter to Mr. Abdulla, seen by The New York Times, Mr. Garcia expressed concern about the gravity of the accusations but said that he had limited authority and that the allegations were beyond the scope of FIFA’s ethics code.

FIFA was plunged into a different crisis in May, when, just before Mr. Blatter’s re-election, seven international soccer officials were arrested in Zurich on racketeering conspiracy and corruption charges brought by the United States. Days later, Mr. Blatter announced that he would relinquish his post, setting off the scramble to succeed him just as FIFA, framed as a victim in the United States’ case, started seeking to demonstrate cooperation with the authorities and seriousness about overhauling itself.

In the United States’ case, which stretches from Miami to São Paulo, Brazil, there has been some progress in bringing international defendants to federal court in Brooklyn to answer the charges against them.

Last week, another former top official arrested in May, José Maria Marin of Brazil, became the latest defendant to be extradited to the United States and to plead not guilty.

On Wednesday, Eugenio Figueredo, former vice president of the South American confederation, often referred to as Conmebol, agreed to be extradited to Uruguay, Swiss authorities said. He had previously opposed extradition, and in September, he appealed Switzerland’s decision to send him to the United States.

American prosecutors will most likely contest Mr. Figueredo’s extradition to Uruguay, at which point Swiss authorities will decide which country’s request should take precedence. The authorities faced a similar choice in the case of Julio Rocha of Nicaragua; last month they ruled in favor of the United States.

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