DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Several Asian football federations scrambled Saturday to justify tens of thousands of dollars that their top officials received from the region's governing body during the tenure of its suspended President Mohamed bin Hammam.
The payments to officials in countries such as the Philippines, Nepal, Bangladesh and East Timor were among hundreds of thousands of dollars that bin Hammam gave supporters and friends, according to an audit obtained by The Associated Press.
The audit, ordered last year to examine the AFC's fiscal accounts and carried out by accountants PricewaterhouseCoopers, also found that bin Hammam enriched himself during a presidency of the Asian Football Confederation that started in 2002. He also signed several no-bid contracts with companies with whom he had personal relationships.
Federation officials contacted by the AP either said they had no information on the payments or insisted they did not constitute any wrongdoing by the officials.
Abu Nayeem Shohag, Acting General Secretary of the Bangladesh Football Federation, acknowledged that its former Communication Manager Ahmed Sayed Al Fatah received $25,000 from the AFC to help cover the cost of a FIFA master's program and that former General Secretary Al Musabbir Sadi received $20,000 for cancer treatment. But he said the payments were justified.
Shohag said Sadi had asked for help from a number of sources to pay his medical bills including the AFC. He received the money last year and died soon after. "There was no issue of corruption involving the payments," he said.
The audit showed that a former Filipino football official, Jose Mari Martinez, received $60,000, plus $11,226 in hospital expenses and $6,000 in travel and accommodation expenses for him and his wife in 2009 and 2010.
Philippines Football Federation President Mariano "Nonong" Araneta said he was unaware of the payments to Martinez but said it was for bin Hammam to answer.
"If Mr. Hammam ever gave money to Mr. Martinez, it should be Mr. Hammam who should explain ... and the PFF has nothing to do with that," Araneta told the AP. "If Mr. Martinez received funds for his personal use, we cannot go after him because it was just between the two of them. Now, if money went to the PFF and was taken out for certain individuals, we will go after them."
As for the hospital payments, Areneta said it was possible that Martinez received help from bin Hammam but that the federation "cannot prevent somebody from helping somebody, especially in those times like that -- when he is in the hospital."
Martinez was forced to step down as the federation president in 2010 for "unauthorized disbursement of PFF funds, falsification of public documents and failure to return missing funds before a set deadline."
Gaurav Thapa, whose works at the AFC's headquarters and whose father Ganesh heads the Nepalese federation, received $100,000 in 2009, according to the audit.
Nepal football officials refused to comment on Saturday.
"We're not in a position to comment because we don't know anything about this. Our president is currently in Malaysia and it will be appropriate that he clarifies things once he is back on Sunday," said an official, who did not want to be named since he is not authorized to speak to the media.
The East Timor federation could not be reached for comment.
Bin Hammam, a 63-year-old Qatari whose life ban from football was overturned in a sports court earlier this week, now faces a second a possible second investigation which could prevent him from resuming his AFC presidency. The Asian governing body has been advised to seek "legal advice in respect of ... whether the actions of Mr. Hammam, and other parties identified in this report, constitute criminal and/or civil breaches."
Bin Hammam was suspended for 30 days by the AFC following receipt of the report last week.
According to the audit, the payments to the federation officials came from bin Hammam's personal account and weren't sufficiently explained in the AFC books. Most of the payments went into the personal accounts of these federation officials, according to the audit, and could come back to haunt these officials or their federations if shown to be inappropriate.