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FIFA-AFC vs bin Hammam – a tale of two audits!

The FIFA-AFC battle to nail their former employee Mohammed bin Hammam has taken an interesting turn with the Qatari official reportedly appointing his own auditors, the London based firm Smith & Williamson, to scrutinize the findings of the AFC’s independent auditors PriceWaterhouseCoopers, which had accused him of serious misdemeanours.

A couple of months ago, the PwC report was apparently prematurely leaked to select media before CAS was due to deliver its verdict on bin Hammam’s appeal against a FIFA ban for allegedly trying to bribe voters in the run-up to the FIFA presidential elections of 2011.

It conveniently allowed FIFA/AFC to keep bin Hammam under continued suspension even though CAS overturned the FIFA ban after finding the evidence on which the suspect was indicted flimsy and the process flawed. It did not however completely exonerate bin Hammam, a former FIFA vice-president, either, and said the Zurich-based world body could open a fresh and proper investigation again, which FIFA has done under new investigator Michael Garcia as earlier reported in this column.

According to The Telegraph, FIFA has since demanded that all delegates who took part in the meeting of the Caribbean Football Union where the bribes were allegedly dispersed on bin Hammam’s behalf, should hand over to the new investigator within a week “all correspondence including emails, texts, SMS messages, letters or notes related to FIFA, CFU, CONCACAF or any football-related entity with which you have been associated…”

After being exonerated by CAS, bin Hammam had declared that he was now ready to leave the pitch for good. But the new AFC charges perked up his survival instincts once again and he has come out of his corner with fisticuffs flying. To recap, the PwC audit had found evidence of the former president splurging money on himself and his cronies from AFC coffers and also suspicious payments made by companies that had signed deals with Asia’s continental body, based on which it had suspended bin Hammam.

The AFC had handed over the investigations into the allegations to the Louis Freeh group, the same organization that had returned a guilty verdict in the FIFA case against bin Hammam in the election bribery case.

Meanwhile, according to reports in the British media, bin Hammam is said to have had a four-hour meeting last week with representatives of Freeh, a former FBI chief, and refuted the allegations against him line by line while also appointing his own auditors to find holes in the PwC audit. So what conclusion will Freeh reach this time after his findings in the FIFA bribery case were set aside by CAS?

That said, the world of international audit and investigation is not as pristine as it may seem. After the AFC’s earlier auditors were oblivious to any shenanigans during bin Hammam’s almost ten-year presidency, PwC may have shown exemplary detective skills in unearthing the Qatari’s alleged murky dealings (which he has vehemently denied) at the behest of new AFC boss Zhang Jilong. But remember how PwC’s Indian arm slept through India’s biggest corporate fraud, the Rs 8,000-crore Satyam scam? PwC were sanctioned by the US Securities and Exchange Commission in 2011 and slapped a $6 million penalty for allowing the accounting fraud at Satyam to go undetected for several years. Big international corporate scandals like Enron, WorldCom and Tyco show how the auditors can keep their eyes shut when all is hunky dory.

Meanwhile, in another development, reports from Kuala Lumpur, where the AFC is based, say that the Malaysian police have arrested the husband of a former AFC official for the alleged theft of documents from the confederation headquarters. The theft was reported to the police by an AFC official earlier this month. The arrested person, Tony Kang, is said to be the husband of Amelia Gan, the AFC’s finance director under bin Hammam.

The missing documents relate to two payments of $2 million and $12 million each made to bin Hammam, as uncovered by the PwC audit, by two companies with direct and indirect links to the Singapore-based World Sports Group that had signed a $1 billion Master Rights Agreement with the AFC. After leaving AFC, according to reports, Ms Gan was hired as a club licensing officer in the home country of bin Hammam by the Qatar Stars league which is headed by a member of the Qatari royal family.

WSG has countered the charges and has reportedly threatened reporters writing on the issue with defamation proceedings and has even initiated legal proceedings against one of them whose exclusive reports on his blog have caused a huge stir demanding that he reveal his sources instead of targeting the AFC or PwC for the leaks.

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