THE CANADIAN PRESS — ZURICH - FIFA banned Mohamed bin Hammam from all soccer duty for life on Saturday after finding him guilty of bribing presidential election voters.
A FIFA ethics panel ruled that the Qatari candidate conspired to pay Caribbean officials US$40,000 cash bribes to back his ultimately abandoned challenge to FIFA President Sepp Blatter.
The verdict after a two-day hearing "was in keeping with the declared policy of the committee to show zero tolerance of unethical behaviour," panel chairman Petrus Damaseb said.
Bin Hammam, a 15-year veteran of the FIFA executive committee, is the most senior soccer official convicted of corruption in its 107-year history.
His lawyer said Bin Hammam maintained he was innocent and rejected the findings based on "so-called circumstantial evidence."
"He will continue to fight his case through the legal routes that are open to him," lead counsel Eugene Gulland told reporters.
Bin Hammam can challenge his life ban at the FIFA appeals body and then the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
"We are confident of the strength of our case and invite FIFA to make available now to the media a full transcript of these proceedings," Gulland said in a prepared statement.
The Asian Football Confederation president didn't co-operate with the FIFA investigation or attend the case.
Bin Hammam has denied wrongdoing and wrote on his website Friday, while the FIFA panel sat in session, that he expected a guilty verdict.
FIFA also suspended two Caribbean Football Union staffers, Debbie Minguell and Jason Sylvester, for one year for their part in distributing the bribes at a May 10 meeting in Trinidad.
FIFA faces further focus on corruption in its ranks as Damaseb, a judge from Namibia, asked for a second wave of investigations.
Damaseb's five-man panel has asked FIFA's legal department to prepare cases against Caribbean soccer leaders who are suspected of taking bin Hammam's bribes, and denying to FIFA investigators that any corruption took place.
FIFA issued a warning to executive committee member Chuck Blazer, who commissioned a dossier of evidence including statements from Caribbean whistleblowers which sparked the explosive case.
Damaseb said Blazer was wrong to have suggested at a May 30 meeting in Zurich that CFU members were "under investigation" at that time.
FIFA's panel dismissed an additional CFU complaint that Blazer's comment was racially motivated.
Bin Hammam's lawyer aimed a further apparent barb at Blazer, who has represented the United States in FIFA's high command since 1996.
"Our case has clearly demonstrated (FIFA's evidence) was bogus and founded on lies told by a senior FIFA official," Gulland said.
Bin Hammam has claimed the case was politically motivated to stop him challenging Blatter, who was re-elected unopposed to world soccer's top job last month.
He has also denounced the FIFA probe, which hired former FBI director Louis Freeh to investigate, as biased against him and characterized by leaks to international media.
Damaseb said the leaks were "a matter of grave concern," though the potential was "vast" because so many people received copies of his panel's reports.
Bin Hammam is the third serving FIFA executive committee member banned from soccer for ethics violations in the past nine months.
A fourth, FIFA vice-president Jack Warner, dodged the panel's judgment by resigning from all of his soccer positions last month before answering charges about his part in the bribery plot.
Damaseb dismissed suggestions that Warner, who also surrendered his jobs as president of the CONCACAF confederation and CFU, had disrespected FIFA's legal process.