The biggest bribery scandal in the 107-year history of Fifa snared its highest-profile victim last night when the most powerful man in Asian football, Mohamed bin Hammam, was banned for life. Bin Hammam, who was already suspended pending a full inquiry, had failed to co-operate with the official investigation into the cash-for-votes debacle, saying he was only prepared to defend himself in front of Fifa's five-man ethics committee.
But, in the end, he failed to show up for the committee's two-day hearing at Fifa headquarters in Zurich, sending lawyers to dispel claims that he offered cash gifts to Caribbean countries at a specially arranged meeting in Trinidad at the time he was running as an opponent to Sepp Blatter in last month's Fifa presidential election.
The ethics committee, headed by Namibian judge Petrus Damaseb, were clearly unimpressed. "Bin Hammam is hereby banned from taking part in any kind of football-related activity at national and international level for life," Damaseb said after the hearing. "The decision was in keeping with the declared policy of the committee to show zero tolerance towards unethical behaviour."
If Bin Hammam's decision to boycott the hearing came as a surprise after several strong-worded appeals for justice, the verdict against him did not. On the eve of the hearing, the former head of the Asian Football Confederation – a member of Fifa's executive committee for 15 years who dropped his presidential candidacy hours before his original suspension in May – suggested the outcome was a foregone conclusion. "It seems likely that Fifa has already made its decision weeks ago," said Bin Hammam, who is convinced of a dirty tricks campaign against him following a spate of leaks about the case. "None of us should be surprised if a guilty verdict is returned.
"My legal team and I remain confident that the case and the evidence presented against me are weak and unsubstantiated."
The 62-year-old Qatari's strategy appears to have been a deliberate tactic to avoid being questioned by the committee after long predicting he would not get a fair trial. It means that none of those originally charged in the case brought by Fifa's American ExCo member Chuck Blazer – Bin Hammam, former Fifa vice-president Jack Warner, and two Caribbean Football Union officials, Jason Sylvester and Debbie Minguel – ended up being present at the ethics committee ruling.
Warner, the former head of Concacaf, resigned several weeks ago from all footballing activities after being charged with facilitating the May 10-11 meeting when cash bungs of $40,000 [£24,500] were allegedly paid, or offered, to 25 Caribbean representatives. Sylvester and Minguel were each banned for a year yesterday while a warning was also issued to Blazer for allegedly telling certain CFU individuals during the process that they were being investigated when they were not.
Despite last night's verdict, Bin Hamman, unlike Warner, seems bound to appeal rather than accept his fate. Just before the ethics committee hearing started on Friday he vowed to go to the Court of Arbitration [for] Sport "or, if necessary, through other courts or legal proceedings in courts where we will be equal and no special privileges will be granted to either party."
With over a third of FIFA's inner sanctum now tarnished by various allegations of corruption or improper behaviour, yesterday's verdict will go some way towards justifying Blatter's pledge to finally clean up the disgraced world governing body.
One unknown factor, however, is how Bin Hammam's ban will impact on Qatar's 2022 World Cup preparations. The tiny Gulf state has come under constant scrutiny, without any evidence of wrongdoing, since winning the 2022 race by a landslide. Recently the whistle-blower who made a string of globally publicised corruption allegations against the bid process withdrew her entire story but Bin Hammam's ban will give Qatar another headache they could do without even although he played a peripheral role in the bid.