ZURICH/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Harold Mayne-Nicholls, who led the teams which inspected bids to host the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, has been banned from all football for seven years, FIFA's ethics committee said on Monday.
World football's governing body said Mayne-Nicholls, formerly head of the Chilean Football Federation, would not be able to take part in "any kind of football-related activity at national and international level" during that period.
FIFA, under investigation by U.S. and Swiss authorities for alleged corruption, including in connection with the awarding of World Cup hosting rights, did not give any details in its statement of why Mayne-Nicholls had been suspended.
Contacted by Reuters, Mayne-Nicholls said he was prohibited from discussing the case by the terms of the Ethics Committee.
But he said in a Tweet he would appeal to higher courts established by FIFA statutes.
Mayne-Nicholls compiled a technical report after leading visits to all countries bidding to host the two tournaments: England, Spain/Portugal, Netherlands/Belgium and Russia for 2018, and United States, Australia, Qatar, South Korea and Japan for 2022.
His report questioned Qatar's suitability for the competition due to the searing heat and logistical issues raised by hosting the tournament in one city.
Internal FIFA documents seen by Reuters show that as of late last year, Cornel Borbely, an investigator hired by FIFA to look into allegations of ethics violations, informed Mayne-Nicholls that he had become a "party" to an internal FIFA investigation.
In one letter on FIFA stationery dated 12 November, 2014, Borbely said Mayne-Nicholls "apparently infringed" several articles of FIFA's ethics code, including provisions outlining FIFA officials "duty of disclosure, cooperation and reporting".
In the letter, Borbely said that according to a file in FIFA's possession, while heading an inspection team FIFA had assembled to evaluate bids from countries seeking to host the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, Mayne-Nicholls "apparently" sent several communications to Andreas Bleicher, an official of Aspire Academy, a Qatar-based sports training organisation.
Borbely alleged that in these communications, Mayne-Nicholls "repeatedly asked for personal favours - including special treatment for family members."
At one point, according to Borbely, Mayne-Nicholls asked Bleicher "to receive at the football level my son Oliver (born October 1994), who is a forward, and my Nephew Nicholas (January 1995), who is a goalkeeper, during January to evaluate and train them?"
Reuters put the allegations to Mayne-Nicholls but he was unable immediately to respond, restrained as he said in his Tweet by the terms of the Ethics Committee.
But in correspondence with Borbely, Mayne-Nicholls denied that his correspondence with Bleicher compromised his assessment of the Qatar bid, asserting that the Aspire Academy had "nothing to do with the bid" and that in any case, he had expressed reservations about holding the World Cup in Qatar.
In a January 2014 deposition he gave to Michael Garcia, a U.S. lawyer who at one point led FIFA's internal investigation, Mayne-Nicholls said that as a result of an inspection visit he paid to Qatar, he concluded that because of the intense heat, holding the World Cup in Qatar in the summer would be a "high risk."
Ultimately, Russia was awarded the right to host the 2018 World Cup and Qatar the 2022 tournament in the same vote in December 2010.
Reporting by Katharina Bart and Mark Hosenball; writing by Brian Homewood and Mark Hosenball; Editing by Mitch Phillips/Ralph Boulton