FrontPageAfrica (Monrovia)

1 June 2014

Liberia: Weah, Nagbe Entangled in FIFA Qatar 2022 World Cup Scandal

Photo: 2010 FIFA OC
CAF President Issa Hayatou (file photo).

"I write because after meeting with the President [bin Hammam], he told me to pass on my contact and bank details information to you urgently." - An email communication from George Weah to bin Hammam's assistant, Najeeb Chirakal.

Monrovia - Just days before the start of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, The Sunday Times of London has unleashed leaked secret documents detailing how Mr. Mohamed Bin Hammam, who was the President of the Asian Football Confederation and a member of the FIFA Executive Committee at the time of the vote for the 2018 and 2022 World Cup in December 2010, utilized a systematic campaign to win support for Qatar 2022 in Africa to the tune of more than $5 million from slush funds.

US$10K For Wesley

In Liberia, Izetta Wesley, then candidate for the LFA presidency received US$10,000 from Bin Hammam and showed her appreciation to Bin Hammam after Qatar won the bid: "I had a wonderful time and was privileged [sic] to sea [sic] that part of the world," she wrote in a leaked email. "I will always cherish these memories.

Thanks for all the beautiful gifts." Similar amounts were also paid to football associations in Africa. The funds were paid directly into her account.

In the wake of the scandal, Bin Hammam was booted out of FIFA in a bribery scandal involving then-Concacaf president Jack Warner as he sought to win support in the Caribbean for his bid to unseat FIFA president Sepp Blatter.

Bin Hammam sought to secure support from the African voters, lobbying them on junkets at which he showered them with gifts, lucrative benefits, private jet travel and extraordinary hospitality.Emails, faxes, accounts and dozens of bank transfer slips show he bought support across the continent by handing out hundreds of thousands of pounds in cash to African football officials and making payments directly into their personal bank accounts. The money was paid from a series of slush funds controlled by his Kemco construction company, including his own and his daughter's bank accounts.

Buying support across Africa, according to the report, was central to Bin Hammam's strategy because the members of CAF exerted collective influence over how its block of four Exco members should vote. Several of the officials he paid held seats on CAF's ruling executive committee and another nine currently sit on standing committees of the FIFA executive.

In Liberia, Izetta Wesley, then candidate for the LFA presidency received US$10,000 from Bin Hamann and showed her appreciation to Bin Hammam after Qatar won the bid: "I had a wonderful time and was previledge [sic] to sea [sic] that part of the world," she wrote in a leaked email. "I will always cherish these memories. Thanks for all the beautiful gifts." Similar amounts were also paid to football associations in Africa. The funds were paid directly into her account.

The damning part of the report in the Times, appearing behind a paid subscription wall, obtained by FrontPageAfrica, details how a "senior figure" inside the football's world governing body decided to "blow the whistle" on Qatar 2022.

Weah Passes on Bank Details

The leaked documents include emails from Liberia's football legend George Weah, the only African international to win the Ballon d'Or, and Lenn Eugene Nagbe, a former Secretary General of the opposition Congress for Democratic Change and current minister of Youth and Sports to bin Hammam's assistant, providing Weah's banking account information -- a Bank of America account in Pembroke Pines, Fla.

Weah writes in an email dated January 25, 2010: "I write because after meeting with the President [bin Hammam], he told me to pass on my contact and bank details information to you urgently."

The Nagbe communication (unedited) reads:

Eugene Nagbe's Letter | Amb. George Weah's Letter

Follow-up-up to the conversation with George Weah & Eugne Nagbe

From: Eugene Nagbe

To: Najeeb Chirakal

Cc: George Weah

Sent: January 25, 2010 9:20:50 PM

Mr. President:

I really was a pleasure speaking with you earlier today through Mr. Weah. Since we last me in Doha a couple of years ago, I was pleased to have spoken to you again.

Regarding the matter you discussed with Weah, please be assured that all of us, mostly Mr. Weah, hold you in a very very high esteem and will remain loyal to you because of all you have done for the development of football in the world. George gas repeatedly spoken of his support for our future plans in world football and we all look forward to your ascendency.

On the issue with the Liberia FA, we will do what we have to do to support the candidate, Mr. President, the FA elections has been so much politicized that various political factions and parties support and candidate. The issue with the incumbent is that the other leading candidate has launched a very high profile campaign which has put her on the back foot and her campaign is suffering. With George's influence, we will have to work very fast as the elections is less than couple of months away.

I spoke to George further today and informed him that we will need to inject additional cash into the lady's campaign if we are to make the impact we need to make. Conservatively, an amount of about USD 50, 000 will be needed additionally to lock the election down because Izetta was really behind the candidate which being supported by the political party of the government. George will also have to fly to Liberia at least twice before the elections.

Please be assured Mr. President, that this is just a step in the bigger scheme of things to come. George have lined up most of the other former stars and the federations in Africa and South America so that when we are ready, your victory will be assured.

I suggest that since George is in Doha with you, both of you conclude on this so that we can start moving right away as time is not on our side.

Look forward to seeing you again.

Thanks,

Eugene

Weah, who was due back in Monrovia Saturday, was not available for a response as his phone was switched off. But Nagbe, when contacted Sunday, provided FrontPageAfrica with an email response he says he also provided to the Sunday Times but which he says was not included in the Times report.

Nagbe acknowledges Meetings

The Times inquired from Nagbe whether he requested $US50,000 for Izetta Wesley's campaign to be re-elected as president of the Liberian Liberia Football Association(LFA). "A sum of the same amount was subsequently deposited in Mr. Weah's account. Did you consider such a payment inappropriate or even corrupt? I am writing for Sunday's newspaper and would be grateful for a response by the end of today," the Times senior reporter, Jon Ungoed-Thomas wrote.

In his response, Nagbe explained that in 2009, he and Weah and had a series of discussions with Mr. Bin Hammam, centering on Mr. Bin Hammam's desire to contest for the Presidency of FIFA and his request to have Mr. Weah support this ambition. Nagbe said Weah acquiesced and promised to canvass when Mr. Hammam puts himself forward.

Noted Nagbe: "I did send an email to Mr. Hammam on behalf of Mr. Weah for him to support Mrs. Izzetta Wesley's campaign to get re-elect as Presisent of the Liberian FA as part of a grander scheme to harness the support of progressive, reform minded individuals in furtherance of Mr. Hammam's quest to ascend to the helm of FIFA and effect positive change there. The request for support to Mrs. Wesley was never a part of any scheme to get Qatar awarded the 2022 World cup. Subsequent events have proven that as neither Mr. Weah nor Madam Wesley cast or influenced the vote for the award of 2022 to Qatar."

Nagbe, however, said he was not aware that the request for financial support to Mrs. Wesley's campaign was ever made to Mr. Weah. I have spoken to Mr. Weah who has informed me that he had availed all records of his finances to an earlier inquiry by FIFA and that he has always acted with integrity and prudence. George Weah is a genuine hero of the world and African game. He is a legend and a quintessential iconic footballer whose contribution to the global game on and off the pitch has remained exemplary and irreproachable. It is my worry that your investigation of the award of 2022 to Qatar is now being skewed towards a vainglorius assailment of the reputation of this great football legend purely to fit a pre-designed narrative that England was cheated by and through a grand conspiracy."

Against FIFA Regulations

FIFA's rules ban bid committees, or any of their associates, from "providing to FIFA or any representative of FIFA ... any monetary gifts [or] any kind of personal advantage that could give even the impression of exerting influence, or conflict of interest, either directly or indirectly, in connection with the bidding process ... and any benefit, opportunity, promise, remuneration or service to any such individuals, in connection with the bidding process".

The revelations threaten to engulf FIFA as it prepares to gather for its annual congress in Brazil on June 10 ahead of the World Cup. Much of that investigation is confirmed in the Sunday Times investigation as it determined bin Hammam used AFC accounts to access cash and his private construction company, Kemco, to funnel money to African officials seeking handouts.

Bin Hammam's goal was to gain a groundswell of support in Africa for the Qatar 2022 campaign so that the four executive committee members would have no choice but to support Qatar 2022. Before the vote, Amos Adamu of Nigeria was suspended after being caught in a Sunday Times sting operation. The other three Africans were Cameroonian Issa Hayatou, Egyptian Hany Abu Rida and Ivorian Jacques Anouma.

The Sunday Times said the Qatari bid committee was aware of the efforts to court African delegations on trips to Doha though it was not clear how much it knew about payments beyond travel expenses. Qatar won the vote of the FIFA executive committee by 14-8. It has pushed ahead with its plans for the 2022 World Cup though FIFA has yet to decide when to hold the tournament -- summer or winter.

Despite suggestions of a re-vote on the 2022 host, few believe it will take place without compelling evidence that the Qatar 2022 bid committee was directly involved in payoffs to members of the executive committee. FIFA investigator Michael Garcia is scheduled to meet with Qatar 2022 bid committee officials this week. It is not clear whether that meeting will go ahead in light of the new revelations.

The scandal is already heightening calls for the World Cup bid to be taken away from Qatar. Football chiefs, politicians and anti-corruption experts, according to the Times are calling for the competition for the 2022 World Cup to be rerun. Alexandra Wrage, a former member of FIFA's independent governance committee, said the evidence was a "smoking gun".

Calls Mount for Qatar Bid Annulment

John Whittingdale, chairman of the Commons culture committee, said: "There is now an overwhelming case that the decision as to where the World Cup should be held in 2022 should be run again."

The disclosures come as the Qatar 2022 bid committee is facing a showdown with FIFA's top investigator, Michael Garcia, in Oman. Sources say Garcia will interview the Qatar bid committee face to face for the first time during his two-year investigation into alleged corruption in the bidding contests for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.

Facing pressure to rerun the bid, Sepp Blatter, the FIFA president, admitted last month that it had been a "mistake" to hand the tournament to Qatar after FIFA's technical assessors had said a Doha World Cup would be "high risk" because the searing desert temperatures of up to 50C could be harmful to the players.

Bin Hammam declined to respond to correspondence and calls last week. His son emailed The Sunday Times to say that he and the family would not comment.Members of the Qatar bid committee denied any link to Bin Hammam and said he had played no secret role in their campaign. They said they had no knowledge of any payments he had made and they had no involvement in any improper conduct," the Times reported.

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