Corruption allegations plunge Fifa into civil war

Warner and Bin Hammam accused of offering bribes in return for election votes

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The power brokers in football's controversial world governing body Fifa turned on one another yesterday in an unprecedented 24 hours of bribery allegations that could precipitate a meltdown in the secretive, much-criticised organisation.

The Fifa president, Sepp Blatter, who is standing to be elected for a fourth term in office on Wednesday, announced a corruption investigation into his opposing candidate, Mohamed bin Hammam, and the Concacaf president, Jack Warner, in what could be the beginning of a dirty war with the potential to break old Fifa alliances wide open.

Conspiracy theories abounded yesterday as to why Blatter would sanction an investigation into Warner, a key ally who has consistently delivered the Concacaf (North and Central America confederation) bloc vote for the current Fifa president. One explanation was that Warner was switching his allegiances to Bin Hammam to try to end the 75-year-old's 13-year Fifa reign.

However, on a day of accusations and denials, there were also a theory that it was an elaborate plot cooked up between Blatter and Warner to isolate and defeat the Qatari Bin Hammam, the president of the Asian football confederation and a key figure in his country's successful bid to host the 2022 World Cup finals last year.

The possibility remains that Warner and Bin Hammam, neither of whom would go down without a bitter struggle, will turn on Blatter and trigger a breakdown in the long-standing allegiances within the organisation that have allowed its executive committee (ExCo) to avoid answering corruption allegations for decades.

What was not in doubt was the severity of the allegations which led to Fifa yesterday announcing an ethics committee investigation, which will hold its hearing in Zurich on Sunday. They were made by Chuck Blazer, the 66-year-old New Yorker and ExCo member, a loyal Blatter ally who in the past has also been firmly in the camp of fellow Concacaf ExCo member Warner.

Fifa made the startling disclosure that Blazer had sent general secretary Jérôme Valcke a report in which he alleged that Warner and Bin Hammam, also an ExCo member, had organised bribes in exchange for votes at a meeting of the Caribbean Football Union (CFU) earlier this month. Two employees of the CFU, Debbie Minguell and Jason Sylvester, have also been charged.

Last night the Press Association reported that the dossier given to Fifa by Blazer included sworn affidavits by CFU members claiming they were offered thousands of dollars in cash for "development projects" at the meeting organised by Warner on Bin Hammam's behalf to talk about his candidacy.

According to the Press Association, the dossier includes allegations that some of the bundles of cash were accepted and also that those who refused to take money approached Blazer to report the bribes. The report is said to include photographic evidence.

One of the most remarkable parts of the charges is that they pit long-standing allies against each other – most notably Warner and Blazer. The American, a corpulent Father Christmas lookalike with a fondness for self-publicity, has potentially challenged the traditional power structures and alliances within Fifa, with the potential to blow the organisation and its dealings apart.

It was an unexpected development for those who believed that the level of information ExCo members had on the dealings of one another guaranteed that none would ever break ranks and turn whistle-blower.

If Bin Hammam is found guilty then there will be serious implications for Qatar's hosting of the 2022 World Cup finals, which is already the subject of a Fifa investigation into allegations that the bid paid bribes to two African ExCo members in return for votes.

Bin Hammam yesterday denied the allegations. He said: "This has been a difficult and painful day. If there is even the slightest justice in the world, these allegations will vanish in the wind." The hearing has been convened so quickly that there were doubts yesterday as to whether the ethics committee deputy chairman Petrus Damaseb, of Namibia, who will be in charge, would be able to attend.

Warner, who infamously promised his vote to England's 2018 World Cup bid only to renege on it, said that he was "not aware of any wrongdoing" on his part. He added: "It is interesting to note the timing of these allegations and the hearing scheduled days before the Fifa presidential elections."

The key CFU meeting on 10 May in Warner's native Port of Spain, in Trinidad, was called only because Bin Hammam was unable to attend the Concacaf congress in Miami earlier this month because of a visa issue. National associations which attended the CFU meeting were contacted by The Independent yesterday but declined to comment on Blazer's allegations.

However, an official of one confederation said Concacaf delegates travelling to Zurich for June's elections were due to meet in Switzerland before the vote, adding credence to the theory that they might be planning en masse to switch to Bin Hammam.