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FIFA to probe charges of vote-buying in AFC poll

THREATS of legal action have not stopped Asian Football Confederation chief Mohamed bin Hammam from claiming that regional Olympic officials were trying to buy votes for his rival in an increasingly bitter campaign for a seat on one of the key decision-making bodies in football.

Bin Hammam was traveling yesterday and declined to expand on the allegations which prompted a FIFA Ethics Committee investigation, an angry reaction by the Olympic Council of Asia and a call for caution from FIFA president Sepp Blatter about the conduct of the Asian election.

FIFA's ethics commission is investigating claims made by one of its panel members that the OCA was trying to influence national football associations to support Bahrain's Shaikh Salman bin Ebrahim Khalifa in his campaign to oust bin Hammam from the FIFA executive committee position.

"Clearly, the OCA cannot leave such accusations unanswered and is now preparing to undertake legal action," the regional Olympic committee said in a statement. "The OCA has completely and absolutely denied the allegations leveled on it with regard to the rumors concerning the AFC elections."

FIFA ethics panel member Les Murray, who conducted a recent interview with bin Hammam for Australia's SBS TV, referred allegations about the OCA offering grants to certain Asian federations to support Salman to the commission.

Murray said that he had evidence from a "highly reliable" source to support the allegation but would not comment further because it was now in the "FIFA domain."

Bin Hammam said his claims were based on factual information and would relate details of the information he received to the FIFA Ethics Committee, "that being the appropriate forum which investigates claims and counterclaims." The OCA said it denied "the baseless accusations and requested FIFA to name the source."

Petrus Damaseb, a judge from Namibia who is the acting head of FIFA's anti-corruption watchdog, ordered an investigation after his ethics panel received complaints about both candidates. He said the open dispute between such high-ranking officials was unprecedented.

Bin Hammam claims Korean football officials and the OCA are driving his opponent's election campaign. The Korean FA lodged a complaint against Bin Hammam, saying he used a phrase in a Qatari television interview that could be translated as threatening to cut off the head of its president Cho Chung-yeon, although bin Hammam played down the comment, comparing it with the English expression "heads will roll."

OCA director general Husain Al-Musallam said bin Hammam's accusations were part of his "unwise election strategy" ahead of the May 8 vote.

Al-Musallam said the OCA's finances were subject to external audits by a leading global accounting firm and internal audits before two executive board meetings each year, as well as regular finance committee meetings.

"Our books are open. We hide nothing. We are transparent," Al-Musallam said. "We don't have (spare) cash. Under OCA guidelines, we can't take one dollar to switch from one program to another."

The vote buying allegations are "absolutely not true," he added. "We've never had any breach like which Mr. Bin Hammam accused us."

Al-Musallam didn't deny being a proponent for change in the Asian football hierarchy, suggesting that Bin Hammam's style of leadership was too autocratic .

"We stated our position very clearly. Asian football is very divided - who divides Asian football?" he asked.

Bin Hammam said the campaign to unseat him was "not a football against football campaign" but was coming from outside the game.


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