FIFA raise another red flag on CAF bosses

21 Nov, 2020 - 00:11 0 Views
FIFA raise another red flag on CAF bosses

The Herald

NEW YORK. — FIFA ethics investigators have asked the top football official in Africa to explain why he agreed to revise a television contract, in a way that appeared to benefit a commercial partner, in the latest ethical concern for the troubled Confederation of African Football (caf).

Ahmad Ahmad, the president of CAF and a FIFA vice president, and Constant Omari, CAF’s powerful vice president, have been asked by FIFA to provide details about amendments to a television contract with the marketing company, Lagardère Sports.

The changes to the deal, which covers all of the region’s top club and international competitions, have the potential to move millions of dollars in losses from Lagardère Sports onto the books of CAF, according to documents reviewed by The New York Times.

The new investigation is just the latest problem for Ahmad, who was briefly detained last year by French authorities investigating allegations of embezzlement.

He faces a separate FIFA ethics probe involving complaints of sexual harassment by several female employees and consultants.

It also comes at a pivotal time for African football, which has lurched from crisis to crisis, under his leadership.

Ahmad is seeking a new four-year term early next year, and sanctions related to any of the open cases could disqualify him from running.

At the heart of FIFA’s new investigation was the decision by CAF, after discussions led by Omari and approved by Ahmad, to change the terms of a long-term contract with Lagardère Sports in a way that allowed the France-based company to reduce the minimum amount it guaranteed for CAF’s television rights.

At the same time, the company would shed its responsibility to collect almost US$20 million in unpaid fees from a sub-licenser.

In agreeing to take on the risk of those unpaid fees, CAF’s leadership also agreed to pay Lagardère a US$6.7 million fee.

In effect, CAF agreed to buy the unpaid debt, at a discount, trusting that it could recover the full amount itself from a company that had already defaulted on the debt multiple times.

FIFA last month wrote to both Ahmad, who has taken a 20-day convalescence leave after contracting the coronavirus, and Omari, who on Monday stepped in to temporarily fill in as CAF president, asking them to explain their decisions to alter the television deal.

If they do not, the men could face charges under FIFA’s ethics code.

Like Ahmad, Omari, 62, is a member of FIFA’s governing Council.

FIFA declined to comment on the new investigation, citing their policy of not commenting on the work of their Ethics Committee.

Ahmad declined to comment on the substance of the investigation, saying in a text message he respected the principle of confidentiality even when others did not.

Omari, who has accumulated significant power in African football as the confederation’s No. 2 official, did not respond to a request for comment.

Television rights are football’s most lucrative source of revenue, and they were central to the criminal case brought by the United States Department of Justice in 2015 against a group of officials, and executives in the Americas, who were found to have diverted hundreds of millions of dollars of income from broadcast contracts to accounts they controlled.

That case led to a host of criminal convictions, and to new investigations in Switzerland and France, related to the sale of World Cup television rights in territories across the globe.

African football, long seen as a source of talent and potential revenue, has been of particular interest to FIFA’s president Gianni Infantino, who since his election in 2016, has tried to exert and grow his influence across the region.

He campaigned on behalf of Ahmad, during his successful battle in 2017 to become CAF president, with the FIFA boss attending a birthday party in Harare where major decisions, towards that revolution, were taken.

But, in the years since Ahmad’s victory, the relationship between the two men has deteriorated.

Infantino was embarrassed in 2019 when, a day after he said FIFA had moved on “from being toxic, almost criminal,” French investigators detained Ahmad for questioning in an ongoing corruption inquiry.

Ahmad was released and denied wrongdoing.

Around the same time, several current and former CAF employees provided internal documents and testimony to investigators, in which they accused Ahmad of mismanagement and sexual harassment.

FIFA announced it would send their most senior administrator, Secretary General Fatma Samoura, to effectively take control of CAF.

It was the first time FIFA had taken such action against one of their regional confederations.

Early this year, though, FIFA were forced to withdraw Samoura and a team of officials it had sent to Africa after CAF’s senior leadership declined to extend their request for oversight.

FIFA declared the job of cleaning up African football complete, but that same month details of an audit were made public in a 55-page report that revealed an ugly picture of financial chaos, and mismanagement, inside CAF.

Millions of dollars in development funds were unaccounted for; curious payments to private bank accounts of leaders of national associations, and lavish spending on gifts and overseas travel, raised concern.

It remains unclear why FIFA’s ethics committee have taken so long to provide a judgment in their investigations into Ahmad.

But, if the Ethics Committee substantiate any of the charges he faces — or rule against him on any new ones — he would be ruled out of standing for re-election next year. — The New York Times.

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