FIFA suspends executive during ethics probe
ZURICH (AP) — The fallout from the Mohamed bin Hammam corruption scandal in world football led to FIFA suspending another leading Asian member of its executive committee on Monday.
Vernon Manilal Fernando of Sri Lanka, a close ally of the disgraced former FIFA presidential candidate, has been banned from taking part in any football activities for up to 90 days.
FIFA said this was “to prevent interference with the establishment of the truth” during an ethics investigation.
The suspension relates to the investigation by FIFA prosecutor Michael J. Garcia into the alleged misuse of Asian Football Confederation accounts and conflicts of interest in commercial contracts while bin Hammam was president.
Fernando’s case has been sent to the adjudicatory chamber of FIFA’s ethics committee for a decision.
Calls to his mobile telephone were not returned Monday.
FIFA has not said if there are any specific allegations against Fernando, who joined the governing body’s inner circle under bin Hammam’s patronage.
The 63-year-old Fernando is now barred from involvement in the March 20-21 FIFA board meeting in Zurich, which will recommend ongoing anti-corruption reforms. They were sparked by the bin Hammam scandal and bribery allegations surrounding the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bidding contest.
Bin Hammam resigned from all football-related positions in December and was banned for life by FIFA after its ethics committee charged him with repeated violations while leading the AFC.
It was the Qatari official’s second life ban since he challenged Sepp Blatter for the FIFA presidency in 2011.
Bin Hammam won a Court of Arbitration for Sport ruling last year to overturn the first ban. The court said FIFA hadn’t proven bin Hammam paid $40,000 bribes in cash to Caribbean officials despite presenting whistleblower evidence.
Fernando, who is a lawyer, was among a group of senior football officials who accompanied bin Hammam on that May 2011 trip to Trinidad to woo voters three weeks ahead of the FIFA election. Bin Hammam, who claims Blatter helped orchestrate the scandal, withdrew his candidacy as FIFA prepared to suspend him days before polling.
During the probe into one of most far-reaching scandals to hit world football’s governing body, Fernando was questioned by investigators from former FBI Director Louis Freeh’s agency about his role.
Garcia launched a second probe of bin Hammam in one of his first cases since being appointed FIFA’s lead prosecutor last July.
A yearlong audit by the Malaysia-based Asian confederation revealed “infringements” regarding the “execution of certain contracts” and tampering with the organization’s bank accounts by bin Hammam while he was president since 2002.
Bin Hammam was a former ally of Blatter and had been appointed to chair its Goal Bureau distributing millions of dollars of development funding each year.
Fernando was effectively bin Hammam’s point man in south Asia as FIFA’s development officer based in Colombo, Sri Lanka.
In January 2011, Fernando was elected by Asian football nations as one of their four delegates on FIFA’s ruling executive committee. On the same day in Doha, bin Hammam was re-elected unopposed as AFC president and prepared to take on Blatter.
With a scheduled May 2 election to choose a new AFC president, Fernando is now barred from campaigning for one of the four candidates. Three are former allies of bin Hammam, whose legacy is still being purged from world football.
AP Sports Writer Rob Harris in London contributed to this report