TWO of football's most powerful figures have been accused of handing over bundles of US dollar bills in the most serious corruption crisis that Fifa have ever faced.
Fifa announced yesterday that vice-president Jack Warner and presidential candidate Mohamed Bin Hammam have been charged with bribery. The pair will face Fifa's ethics committee on Sunday where they will face long bans if the allegations - made by fellow executive committee member Chuck Blazer - are proved. Both have denied any wrongdoing.
The crisis puts a big question mark over whether the Fifa presidential election between Sepp Blatter and Bin Hammam on Wednesday will go ahead. Bin Hammam, from Qatar, has declared the charge is a tactic by Blatter in an attempt to boost his chances in next Wednesday's election.
Blazer, an American who is the general secretary of the CONCACAF federation of which Warner is president, has alleged that the violations of Fifa's code of ethics occurred during a meeting organised by Bin Hammam and Warner for Caribbean Football Union (CFU) associations in Trinidad two weeks ago.
Two CFU officials, Debbie Minguell and Jason Sylvester, have also been charged. Details of the allegations contained in a file of evidence has been put together by a firm of US-based lawyers and sent to Fifa.
The file includes sworn affidavits by several members of the CFU who claim they were offered thousands of dollars in cash for "development projects" at the meeting, which Bin Hammam had been invited to in order to speak about his campaign for Fifa president. Some of the bundles of cash were accepted, the file says, but some of those who refused to take any money approached Blazer. Some of the evidence in the file includes photographs.
Fifa today confirmed the charges, saying in a statement: "On 24 May, 2011, Fifa executive committee member and CONCACAF general secretary Chuck Blazer reported to Fifa secretary general Jerome Valcke possible violations of the Fifa code of ethics allegedly committed by officials.
"In particular, the report referred to a special meeting of the Caribbean Football Union, apparently organised jointly by Fifa vice-president Jack A Warner and Fifa executive committee member Mohamed Bin Hammam, which took place on 10-11 May 2011. This meeting was linked to the upcoming Fifa presidential election."
The four people charged have been invited to respond to the allegations by Friday and to attend a hearing in Zurich on Sunday.
Bin Hammam insisted he was confident he would be absolved of all charges. He said in a statement: "If there is even the slightest justice in the world, these allegations will vanish in the wind."
Warner said: "I am not aware of any wrongdoing on my part and I shall listen to allegations made and respond accordingly."