KUWAIT CITY, April 25: FIFA officials are probing the Asian sport’s governing body controlled by one of the world governing body’s own most powerful executives over allegations of interference in football elections in the region, reports Al-Rai daily.
The Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) is the umbrella group for 45 Asian nations and is headed by Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahd Al-Sabah of Kuwait, a member of FIFA’s executive committee and widely regarded as a ‘kingmaker’ in global sport.
Sheikh Ahmad’s organization has been accused by a Kuwaiti MP, Abdullah Al-Ma’ayouf of manipulating ‘elections of some Asian federations’.
Sheikh Ahmad has vehemently denied any wrongdoing and says accusations against him are politically motivated.
During an investigation by The Mail on Sunday, along with the Ekstra Bladet newspaper of Denmark, legal sources close to FIFA have said the OCA is being investigated.
Paperwork being studied includes correspondence between a senior official of the OCA, Amer Elalami and the head of the football association of Kyrgyzstan, Dastan Konokbaev, either side of the Asian football confederation presidential election of May 2013, won by Sheikh Salman of Bahrain who was backed by Sheikh Ahmad.
Sheikh Ahmad’s influential support also helped Thomas Bach to become president of the International Olympic Committee in 2013.
Sheikh Ahmad has been accused by politicians in his home country of using the OCA to influence sports elections with Al-Ma’ayouf, alleging the OCA has been used ‘to organize and manipulate some elections of the Asian federations’.
One email explicitly mentions ‘where we [the Kyrgyz FA] need your [OCA] support’ as ‘previously discussed’, then list projects requiring hundreds of thousands of dollars of funding.
Konokbaev and Elalami switch between private email addresses and work emails, refer to each other as ‘brother’, and Elalami at one point writes ‘just let me know if [you] require any assistance from our side’ then provides a ‘private’ email address and ‘secure’ mobile number that he says is ‘available any time.’
Neither the OCA nor Sheikh Ahmad have responded to repeated questions about this specific correspondence. OCA media manager Jeans Zhou Jian says: ‘Any suggestion that the OCA has provided financial assistance to any football federation is untrue.’
Neither will comment on whether any OCA official, in any capacity, has funded the Kyrgyz FA or any Kyrgyz official, in any capacity. A Kyrgyz official who answered Konokbaev’s phone last week said to contact him another way but he did not respond to emails.
Documents obtained by the Mail on Sunday have been made available to FIFA.
A spokesman for FIFA’s Ethics Committee says: ‘It is the task of the investigatory chamber to examine all relevant complaints and information and to take them into account in taking its decision, which of course it does independent of a person’s position.
In order to protect any investigations we can however not indicate if we have or have not preliminary investigatory proceedings against an individual.’
Sheikh Ahmad’s background as a member of Kuwait’s bitterly divided royal family has led to repeated accusations from within his own country around malpractice related to the OCA, all of which he denies.
The OCA’s location in Kuwait meant all staff there, including Sheikh Ahmad, were protected by diplomatic immunity until last week. The organization’s future in the country remains uncertain.
Sheikh Ahmad says accusations that he was involved in the suspension of sporting bodies in his country from their world governing bodies are false and politically motivated.
Political enemies of Sheikh Ahmad inside Kuwait allege he wants revenge for having to apologize on national television last year for making a claim, later shown to be false, that there was a plot underway to assassinate the country’s Amir.
Sources say Sheikh Ahmad made the apology after several independent intelligence reports – including one compiled by corporate investigators Kroll, seen by this newspaper – showed he knew there was no plot to assassinate the Amir.
Sheikh Ahmad has declined to respond to questions about his apology or the reasons for it.