James Dorsey is a Singapore-based blogger covering soccer in North Africa and the Middle East at his excellent blog The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer. Dorsey, senior fellow at Nanyang Technological University’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, focuses on many of the cultural idiosyncrasies of soccer in the region. As part of his mission, he reported on a leaked PriceWaterhouse Cooper audit of the AFC that outlined payments to then president Mohamed Bin Hammam, a report that also puts in question the $1B rights agreement won by World Sport Group of Singapore.
And now World Sport Group has won a judgment in Singapore High Court against Dorsey requiring the blogger to reveal his source for the PWC audit. The company, facing the implication that it won the rights contract improperly, may launch defamation suits against whomever funneled Dorsey the information. The audit reports payments of $14m to Bin Hamman in the time leading up to WSG winning an extension of the rights agreement.
Dorsey plans to appeal the ruling.
World Sport Group is the same company now involved with the New York Cosmos in partnership with Sela Sport, a Saudi company, after the collapse of Paul Kemsley’s revival effort. Seamus O’Brien, the current Cosmos chairman and the man at the forefront of the club’s return to the field for 2013, holds the same title with WSG.
As for the possible source of Dorsey’s information, it’s worth nothing that the husband of former AFC finance director Amelia Gan recently pleaded not guilty in Malaysian court to a charge he stole a financial document belonging to Bin Hammam from AFC headquarters in Kuala Lumpur. Gan herself is expected to be charged when she returns to Malaysia.
The report obtained by Dorsey lays out a list of questionable and illegal activities on the part of Bin Hammam.
- “used the AFC’s company bank accounts to facilitate personal transactions as if they were his personal bank accounts” with the knowledge of the soccer body’s finance committee and under the management of AFC finance director Amelia Gan who was fired last year after he was suspended;
- received in February 2008 $12 million from Al Baraka Investment and Development Co , believed to be owned by Saudi billionaire Sheikh Saleh Kamel. “We understand that the Al Baraka Group may have been a 20% beneficial owner of the WSG group” (World Sport Group) with which the AFC signed a $1 billion master rights agreement (MRA) in June 2009 negotiated by Mr. Bin Hammam;
- received $2 million from International Sports Events (ISE) in November 2008, “an entity which is currently a 10% shareholder of the WSG Group.” The report says that PWC’s “enquiries indicate that Mr Mohyedin Saleh Kamel, the Assistant Chief Executive Officer (Investments) of the Dallah Al-Baraka Group may have been (from 2005 –2009) the Managing Director of ISE;” It said that a significant portion of these funds were subsequently transferred to Mr Hammam’s personal and company bank accounts” in Jordan and Malaysia but that “no direct evidence has been identified to confirm a link between the payments purportedly for the benefit of Mr Hammam and the awarding of the MRA.”
- transferred $4.9 million to Kemco Real Eastate, part of Kemco Group that is allegedly owned by Mr. Hammam
- made “significant and notable payments… in relation to individuals, Member Associations, and travel and accommodation for AFC and FIFA events” for which there “does not appear to be any clear purpose for a number of these transactions. That is, payments were made to entities and individuals with no corresponding explanation.”
- made cash payments to North Korea and Iran that could contradict international sanctions against those two countries;
- paid “certain fines and levies charged by the AFC to Member Associations (ie. Jordan, Syrian, Iraqi and Lebanese Football Associations) that were borne by Mr Hammam. This appears highly unusual. In these instances payments were not made to the individual Member Associations. Instead, fines were charged (debited) to the sundry debtors account as an amount due from Mr Hammam.”
- handed out some $700,000 to family and friends, including buying suits for himself and Confederation of African Football head Issa Hayatou who is likely to a target of the FIFA investigation of the Qatar bid, an aiirline ticket for AFC Vice President Ganesh Thapa’s wife and son; settling a $19,767 car loan belonging to former AFC assistant secretary general and WSG vice president for corporate security Carlo Nohra; purchasing for himself fitness equipment in Kuala Lumpur and Doha; a $10,000 Bulgari watch; paying $15,000 for unspecified cargo from Switzerland to Qatar, and shouldering the dentistry, evening gown, facial and saloon charges of his daughters and honey moon of his son; and transferring $100,000 to his wife with no justification.
International Sports Events (ISE), a WSG shareholder, is the entity that made payments to Bin Hammam ahead of the rights decision. ISE is reportedly owned by Saudi billionaire Saleh Abdullah Kamel, who is brother-in-law to chief Sela Sports figure Hussein Mohsin Al Harthy.
None of Mr. Dorsey’s reporting is in dispute. A WSG counsel implicitly admitted the accuracy of the information in a letter to James Dorsey by saying the sources “must have a very deep knowledge of the matters referred to in your Article.”
Bin Hamman remains “provisionally” suspended by FIFA while AFC finances are investigated. He had been reinstated by the Court for Arbitration in Sport after a previous ban for his role in he Caribbean vote-buying scandal.
To sum up, James Dorsey’s right to journalistic freedom is under threat, Mohamed Bin Hammam is a crook, the people running the New York Cosmos appear to be shady in some measure, and more is sure to come.