U.S. Justice Department Sought Help Of Kuwaiti Authorities In Probe Into Alleged FIFA Co-Conspirator Roles Of FINA President & His OCA Boss The Olympic Sheikh

2021-09-03 Reading Time: 5 minutes

Documents new to the public domain have revealed that the United States Department of Justice has sought assistance from Kuwaiti authorities in its investigation into the alleged roles of Husain al-Musallam, the president of FINA, the global regulator for swimming and other aquatic disciplines, and his boss at the Olympic Council of Asia, Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Ahmed Al-Sabah, known as the IOC’s “kingmaker”, in suspected racketeering and bribery related to FIFA and international soccer politics.

Documents obtained by The Associated Press In relation to the two senior Olympic officials from Kuwait targetted by the DoJ in its FIFA investigation include details of a formal request to Kuwaiti authorities in 2017 for help to secure further evidence.

The sheikh is currently on trial in a Geneva court on charges of forgery in a separate matter involving Kuwaiti politics.

That case led to Sheikh Ahmad stepping aside temporarily from the IOC and presidency of the influential Association of National Olympic Committees (ANOC), which lists the Sheikh as its “self-suspended” president. Inactive the sheikh is not, as statements made by him as the Tokyo Olympic Games came to a close last month confirm.

He continues to lead the Olympic Council of Asia, of which Al-Musallam is the director. Similar roles, such as the paid directorships of national swimming federations, have prevented key figures in the sport from joining the top table of FINA, “the Bureau”. However, Al-Musallam stepped up from first vice-president to throne of FINA at elections in June.

The DOJ document seen by the AP confirms payments totalling almost $1 million to Richard Lai, a Guam soccer official involved in FIFA politics. The money is said to have been wired from personal accounts held by three of the men involved – called “co-conspirators” in DoJ court papers – including Olympic organisations run by the sheikh.

Lai, an American citizen, admitted to financial conspiracy charges in federal court in April 2017 and agreed to pay $1.1 million in penalties. He has yet to be sentenced.

The sheikh and al-Musallam were identified as co-conspirators by The Times of London and other news organisations in 2017, based on federal court documents that left no room for doubt about the identities of the men being cited.

Lai admitted to taking bribes from a Kuwaiti faction interested in FIFA politics and that “wanted to buy influence and votes in Asian and world soccer.”

The sheikh has played a key part in election campaigning for himself and key figures in the IOC movement, including Thomas Bach, the president of the International Olympic Committee and a recipient of FINA honours and regular presence at gala dinners and the swimming federation’s headquarters in Lausanne.

When Konstantin Grigorishin, the billionaire owner of Energy Standard and founder of the International Swimming League, met senior FINA executives in Lausanne to discuss FINA’s resistance to the League, he was surprised to find the sheikh there. Grigorishin told this reporter, for The Times in London, that the sheikh had said that the investor from Ukraine could talk to him because while he had no role at FINA, he was the man who ran swimming.

Grigorishin was asked to pay FINA millions to secure the executive’s backing for the League. He refused, took FINA to court in the United States (in action ongoing yet) and proceeded to launch the league with the backing of a vast wave of the best swimmers in the world, including more than 30 with Olympic medals to their credit.

When contacted by the AP this week to respond to the DoJ request to Kuwaiti authorities, the sheikh said: “I asked Kuwait to give them everything. I have nothing to hide.”

Al-Musallam has also denied any wrongdoing and has also noted that he has never been questioned by American authorities.

Last week, the DOJ restated its commitment to its wider FIFA investigation when it announced paying tens of millions of dollars in money forfeited and seized from corrupt soccer officials back into FIFA’s control as restitution.

“Our work isn’t finished,” Michael J. Driscoll of the FBI’s New York Field Office said in a statement on the FIFA inquiry last week, “and our promise to those who love the game — we won’t give up until everyone sees justice for what they’ve done.”

Meanwhile, Justice Department spokesperson Nicole Navas Oxman told the AP: “As a matter of policy, the Justice Department does not publicly comment on mutual legal assistance requests to and from our partner countries, including confirming or denying the very existence of such requests.”

The AP reports:

“The documents seen by the AP show that within weeks of Lai’s guilty pleas, the DOJ drafted a formal approach to the “Central Authority of the State of Kuwait” to help get potential evidence. It stated federal prosecutors in New York are investigating if the named men and others “have violated United States criminal laws by making, accepting, and/or facilitating bribes, kickbacks and other types of illicit payments to (FIFA officials) and laundering such bribe payments and proceeds, conduct which also constitutes racketeering.”

The U.S. embassy in Kuwait made a formal request to local authorities in 2017 for assistance to secure evidence related to the FIFA investigations, including records of multiple bank accounts held in the Gulf state, according to one document seen by the AP, which notes: “The request included a document dated June 7, 2017, titled: “Request for assistance in the investigation of Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Ahmed Al-Sabah, Husain al-Musallam, Reza Charim, Vahid Kardany and others.” The AP adds:

“It reveals that an ANOC account, at the Alahli Bank, was used to wire two payments of $50,000 each in 2015. Lai had said in court he received money from personal accounts and the OCA.

“The DOJ document was to be presented to Kuwaiti authorities by the U.S. Embassy in the country. The formal request for legal assistance from the embassy, dated Sept. 27, 2017, and also seen by the AP, was to be sent to Kuwait’s ministry of foreign affairs for passing on to the attorney general.

American prosecutors told their Kuwaiti counterparts they wanted to establish if the suspects made other payments to Lai, or if their accounts were used to wire possible bribe payments to other soccer officials.

They requested documents dating from 2009, including details of accounts, safe deposit boxes, wire transfers, due diligence reports, currency transactions, emails and internal bank communications “concerning media reports discussing any of the above accountholders.”

American prosecutors said copies should be authenticated by “appropriate custodians” from the banks knowing that false statements “would subject the maker to criminal penalties under the laws of Kuwait.”
The two other men identified in the documents, Reza Charim, Vahid Kardany, both Iranian, were assistants to al-Musallam at the Kuwait-based OCA.

Kardany later joined the governing body of Asian soccer, the Malaysia-based AFC, where he is now deputy general secretary. AP reports: “The DOJ document details that an account in Kardany’s name at Alahli Bank wired $50,000 to Lai in October 2013 and $95,000 in May 2014. An account in Kardany’s name at Gulf Bank wired 43,679 euros ($51,500) in May 2015.”

The AP noted that FINA did not immediately comment when asked about the case on Thursday, in the midst of a week that saw the dismissal of four senior figures at FINA headquarters, including the head of communications. There is no suggestion that events at FINA headquarters this week are related to events involving the DoJ and the separate court action in Geneva.

The IOC declined to comment when asked to do so but the AP.

In the separate case underway in a Geneva court this week, a Delaware company, Trekell Group, established in 2009, was cited at the heart of the case.

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