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Friday, November 9, 2012

Malaysian court drops charges against Bin Hammam associate


Mohammed Bin Hammam

By James M. Dorsey

A Malaysian magistrate’s court has dropped charges against a Malaysian national accused of stealing documents from the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) related to an investigation into the financial management of the group by its suspended president Mohammed Bin Hammam in a ruling that stressed that it did not amount to an acquittal.

The ruling came days after world soccer body FIFA incorporated the AFC’s investigation of Mr. Bin Hammam into its own enquiry into charges of bribery against the Qatari national. The court decision appears to have put an end to potential criminal proceedings against Mr. Bin Hammam under Malaysian law.

It concentrates the investigation into multiple allegations against him on the shoulders of independent FIFA ethics investigator Michael A. Garcia. Mr. Garcia was already looking into allegations that Mr. Bin Hammam had last year bribed Caribbean soccer officials to secure support for his failed challenge to FIFA president Sepp Blatter in the group’s presidential election.

Malaysian national Kong Lee Toong pleaded in September not guilty to charges that he had participated in the theft of documents related to an alleged $2 million payment by a shareholder of Singapore-based World Sports Group (WSG) to Mr. Bin Hammam in advance of the signing of a $1 billion agreement on the management of the AFC’s commercial rights.

Mr. Toong is the husband of Amelia Gan, who was AFC’s director of finance under Mr. Bin Hammam until she was let go last year. Ms. Gan has since her departure from the AFC been employed in Mr. Bin Hammam’s home country as a club licensing officer by Qatar Stars League, which is headed by a member of the Qatari royal family, Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Bin Ahmad Al Thani.

An internal audit of Mr. Bin Hammam’s financial management of AFC conducted earlier this year by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) said that Ms. Gan had been involved in the negotiations with WSG and the management of the suspended official’s sundry account which PwC said Mr. Bin Hammam had treated as his “personal account.” Mr. Bin Hammam has repeatedly denied all allegations against him and reportedly submitted a detailed accounting of his financial management of AFC to FIFA investigators. He has asserted that the charges against him were trumped up because of his challenge to Mr. Blatter.

Mr. Toong surrendered himself to police in after the AFC reported the theft of the documents on July 31. Sources close to the AFC said that the soccer body within hours of its reporting the missing documents received a letter from Mr. Bin Hammam’s Malaysian lawyers accusing it of being responsible for the disappearance from his office of documents related to what he described as  "personal payments."

A second Malaysian police report dated August 11 corroborated by sources close to the AFC quoted the AFC as reporting to the police that AFC staffer Selina Lee Siew Choo, “had admitted taking the file (containing the documents) and said she had handed them to a male Chinese known as Tony, the husband of Ms Amelia Gan, who was the former (AFC) Finance Director. Selina had also admitted making a copy of a bank document advice for a transaction worth USD $2 million, which was a payment from ISE.”

A subsequent August 15 police report, also corroborated by sources close to the AFC, quoted an AFC official as saying that Ms. Choo on August 2 had “admitted stealing the file from the drawer in my office as instructed by Ms Amelia Gan (former finance director at AFC). Her instructions were to steal the file which showed the document/ bank advice containing the US$2 million transaction from ISE and surrender them to her husband, Tony Kang.”

The report quoted AFC finance director Kuan Wee Hong as saying that “I have my suspicions/reasons to believe that the theft of the file was to dispose evidence involving a case of wrongful management of AFC accounts by Mohammad Bin Hammam in the wake of a financial audit by PricewaterhouseCoopers.”

The PwC audit raised questions about two payments – the $2 million and $12 million – to the then AFC president by a shareholder of WSG. It said International Sports Events (ISE), which is believed to have a ten per cent stake in WSG, transferred $2 million to Mr. Bin Hammam’s AFC sundry account in 2008 while $12 million were transferred by a company related to ISE, Al Baraka Investment and Development Co. The two companies are part of Saudi billionaire Saleh Kamel’s commercial empire.

PwC said that Al Baraka “may (through the Arab Radio & Television Co {ART}, which it owns) have been a 20% beneficial owner of the group at that time (of the payment). Further, our enquiries indicate that Mr Mohyedin Saleh Kamel, the Assistant Chief Executive Officer (Investments) of the Dallah Al-Baraka Group may have been (from 2005 2009) the Managing Director of ISE.” PwC said that Mohyedin Saleh Kamel is believed to be Mr. Kamel’s son. It said that ART and ISE appear to share a post office box in Saudi Arabia.

In its report, PwC said that “it is highly unusual for funds (especially in the amounts detailed here) that appear to be for the benefit of Mr Hammam personally, to be deposited to an organization’s bank account. In view of the recent allegations that have surrounded Mr Hammam, it is our view that there is significant risk that…the AFC may have been used as a vehicle to launder funds and that the funds have been credited to the former President for an improper purpose (Money Laundering risk)” or that “the AFC may have been used as a vehicle to launder the receipt and payment of bribes.”

Neither Messrs. Kamel or their companies or WSG have commented on questions raised by the PwC report. In a letter dated August 28, WSG to this reporter that threatened legal action, WSG Group Legal Advisor Stephanie McManus however asserted that “PWC are incorrect and misconceived in suggesting that the MRA (master rights agreement) was undervalued. They have neither considered the terms of the contract correctly, the market, nor the circumstances in which it was negotiated,” Ms. McManus wrote.

WSG has since asked the Singapore court to instruct this reporter to reveal his sources for all his WSG-related reporting. The Singapore High Court is scheduled to decide on November 19 on an appeal by this reporter against a decision by a lower court that instructed him to reveal his sources for his reporting on the PwC report as well as Mr. Bin Hammam’s relationship to the company.

James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore and the author of the blog, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer.

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