June 7, 2019 / 1:59 PM / 2 months ago

Soccer: African soccer boss free after corruption questioning

MARSEILLE/PARIS (Reuters) - French authorities released the head of African soccer’s ruling body, Ahmad Ahmad, after several hours’ questioning as part of a corruption investigation, a source at the prosecutor’s office said on Friday.

FILE PHOTO: African Football Confederation (CAF) President, Ahmad Ahmad speaks to press at presidential palace in Abidjan, Ivory Coast January 29, 2019. REUTERS/Thierry Gouegnon/File Photo

The 59-year-old president of the Confederation of African Football (CAF) was detained by authorities at his hotel in Paris on Thursday but released by the investigating magistrate in the evening, the source told Reuters.

That left Ahmad, a former cabinet minister in his homeland Madagascar, free to leave France. “There’s no judicial control or home detention,” said the source, who is tracking the case.

Ahmad was reported to world governing body FIFA’s ethics committee by then CAF general-secretary Amr Fahmy in March for alleged corruption and harassment. Fahmy was fired.

The allegations followed a string of scandals related to FIFA’s practices in Latin America, the Caribbean and Asia in recent years, which have led to the indictment and jailing of numerous senior football administrators.

The French source said Ahmad was questioned over accusations of “active” and “passive” corruption, money laundering and belonging to a criminal organization.

Neither he nor a lawyer representing him could be reached for comment despite multiple attempts. There was no immediate response from CAF either.

Ahmad, who is also a vice-president of FIFA, had been in Paris for the organization’s congress, where its newly re-elected president Gianni Infantino said his institution had finally shed its “toxic, almost criminal” image.

“ERADICATING WRONGDOING”

In a statement on Friday, FIFA requested more details on Ahmad’s case while saying all allegations must be investigated.

“As a matter of due process, everyone has the right to the presumption of innocence, but as the FIFA president reiterated yesterday, FIFA is fully committed to eradicating all forms of wrongdoing at any level in football,” it said.

“Anyone found to have committed illicit or illegal acts has no place in football.”

A document sent on March 31 by Fahmy to the FIFA ethics committee accused Ahmad of ordering his secretary-general to pay $20,000 bribes into accounts of African football association presidents. At the time, Ahmad did not respond to requests for comment on the allegations.

FIFA then launched an investigation into Ahmad.

The internal document also accused Ahmad of harassing four female CAF staff, whom it did not name; violating statutes to increase Moroccan representation within the organisation; and over-spending more than $400,000 of CAF money on cars in Egypt and Madagascar, where a satellite office was set up for him.

FILE PHOTO: A view shows the Hotel de Berri after Confederation of African Football president Ahmad Ahmad was being questioned by French authorities in Paris, France, June 6, 2019. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes/File Photo

The document also accused Ahmad of costing CAF an extra $830,000 by ordering equipment via a French intermediary company called Tactical Steel, rather than directly from manufacturers.

It was not immediately clear whether the link to Tactical Steel in France was the cause of the French investigation.

Tactical Steel, which is based in La Seyne-sur-mer near Marseille, said it had no immediate comment to make. In April, its president Sabine Seillier said Tactical Steel had won a CAF contract legitimately, complied with French law and not been involved in any kickbacks.

Reporting by Jean-Francois Rosnoblet in Marseille; Emmanuel Jarry and Inti Landauro in Paris; Editing by Luke Baker and Andrew Cawthorne

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