Under investigation: Mohammed Bin Hammam
By James M. Dorsey
The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) has advised the Malaysian police that documents related to a payment by International Sports Events (ISE), a shareholder of Singapore-based World Sports Group (WSG), to suspended AFC president Mohammed Bin Hammam, have gone missing from its Kuala Lumpur offices and were allegedly handed over to an associate of Mr. Bin Hammam, according to Malaysian police reports and sources close to the AFC.
The sources said the police were investigating the incident, which according to them as well as the reports, was first reported to the police on July 31 by AFC finance director Kuan Wee Hong. Mr. Hong told the police in subsequent statements that the documents had been handed over to a Chinese male by the name of Tony Kang, believed to be the husband of Amelia Gan, the soccer body’s finance director under Mr. Bin Hammam.
Ms. Gan was let go from AFC after Mr. Bin Hammam’s suspension on suspicion of bribery and corruption. She has since 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. Qatar Holding LLC, an investment arm of Qatar, holds a ten per cent stake in France’s Lagardere Unlimited, according to Lagardere’s 2011 annual report. Lagardere is WSG’s largest shareholder.
The missing documents relate to a $2 million payment in 2008 by Saudi Arabia-based ISE, one of three WSG shareholders according to the company’s website. A recent internal AFC audit conducted by PriceWaterhouse Coopers (PwC) said that the money had been paid to Mr. Bin Hammam for his personal use. The PwC report said the payment by ISE, which is believed to have a ten per cent stake in WSG, as well as a second payment of $12 million by a related company, Al Baraka Investment and Development Co., were “of interest. Transactions of significant value between these parties (of both a business and purportedly personal nature) occurred around the time of the MRA contract (a controversial $1 billion master rights agreement) negotiations with WSG,” PwC said in its report.
PwC said that Al Baraka “may (through the Arab Radio & Television Co., 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.” Al Baraka is a finance arm of Dallah Al Baraka that is owned by Saudi billionaire Saleh Kamel. 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. Neither Messrs. Kamel or their companies could be reached for comment.
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.”
WSG has refused to comment on the PwC report and has threatened reporters, including the author of this report, with defamation proceedings. However in an August 28, 2012 letter to this reporter WSG Group Legal Advisor Stephanie McManus asserted that “PWC are incorrect and misconceived in suggesting that the MRA 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.
The agreement is controversial both because of the unexplained payments as well as assertions by sources close to the AFC that the soccer group, in line with common practice among international sport associations, should have concluded a service provider rather than a master rights agreement with WSG. The sources said such an agreement would have given the AFC greater control of its rights and how they are exploited and enabled it to better supervise the quality of services provided by WSG.
A July 31 Malaysian police report of AFC finance director Hong’s complaint says that he noticed that an “important document, which contained a bank report/statements belonging to former AFC president (Mohammad b Hammam), was missing from my office.” Mr. Hong told the police that he and a colleague, James Johnson, had last reviewed the document on July 13 and that “after that I kept the document back in a storage drawer” until he discovered that it was missing.
The Malaysian police could not be immediately reached for comment. Associated Press last week quoted Kuala Lumpur police chief in charge of commercial crimes investigations Izany Abdul Ghany as saying that police were investigating a complaint by an AFC official that another senior AFC official, a non-Malaysian national, had embezzled monies. Mr. Izany told the agency that the official under investigation, whom he did not name, could be charged with criminal breach of trust. Mr. Izany said the investigation was likely to take months.
Sources close to the AFC said that the soccer body within hours of reporting the missing document received a letter from Mr. Bin Hammam’s Malaysian lawyers accusing it of being responsible for the disappearance. The sources said the AFC had asked the Malaysian police to give it several days to conduct its own internal investigation before looking into the matter.
A second Malaysian police report dated August 11 corroborated by sources close to the AFC quoted Mr. Hong 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 August 15 Malaysian police report, also corroborated by sources close to the AFC, quoted Mr. Hong 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 Mr. Hong as further 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.”
Mr. Bin Hammam has been suspended for more than a year as FIFA vice president and AFC president on charges of having sought to bribe Caribbean soccer officials to support his failed effort last year to challenge Sepp Blatter in elections for the FIFA presidency. The PwC report constituted the basis on which Mr. Bin Hammam’s suspension was extended in July after the Court of Arbitration of Sport overturned a FIFA ruling that banned Mr. Bin Hammam for life from involvement in professional soccer. The reporting of the missing documents fell within the legal timeframe in which the AFC was obliged to report to the Malaysian police that it had reasonable grounds to suspect a violation of the law.
James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore and author of the blog, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer