CAF boss’ arrest in Paris throws 2019 AFCON finals into turmoil

Robson Sharuko Senior Sports Editor
EXACTLY two weeks before the 2019 AFCON finals burst into life in Cairo, Egypt, African football has been shocked to its foundations by the arrest after its leader, Ahmad Ahmad, was arrested at a luxury Parisian hotel in France yesterday on corruption charges.

The 59-year-old Ahmad, who rose to power riding on a wave of popular support that toppled the long-serving Issa Hayatou two years ago, has seen his reign being marred, in recent months, by allegations of corruption, abuse of office and claims he could have sexually harassed four female CAF employees.

He was forced to fire the CAF secretary-general, Amr Fahmy, when it was revealed the Egyptian had turned into a whistleblower and compiled a dossier, which was sent to the FIFA Ethics Committee, detailing the way Ahmad had been abusing his position, including but not limited to, pursuing projects that would benefit him financially.

Ahmad was also accused of over-spending more than US$400 000, according to an internal document sent by Fahmy to the FIFA Ethics committee, on cars in Egypt and Madagascar, where a satellite office had been set up for him. Fahmy was replaced by Mouad Hajji, from Morocco, and there have been concerns around the continent, of late, that Ahmad appears to have been sucked into the pockets of the powerful North African country and now always seemed to be dancing to their tune.

South African Football Association boss Danny Jordaan’s surprise loss to his Malawian counterpart, Walter Nyamilandu, in the vote for the FIFA Council seat last year, despite the former’s excellent work in organising Africa’s first World Cup finals in 2010, was also linked to the Moroccan influence.

Jordaan, just like his Zimbabwean counterpart, Philip Chiyangwa, fell out with Ahmad, and his Moroccan associates, after the duo backed the Americans’ successful bid to host the 2026 World Cup rather than throw their weight behind the North African country.

Although both Jordaan and Chiyangwa played a very influential role in Ahmad’s rise to become the CAF president, the former Madagascar football leader chose to turn his back on them, after he assumed office, and started enjoying the company, and patronage, of the North Africans.

Last week, the two parties appeared to patch their differences when Ahmad made a surprise visit to the COSAFA Cup in Durban, with the regional leaders issuing a statement to support him, but many seasoned observers dismissed it as a public relations gimmick.

FIFA confirmed yesterday, in a statement released after Ahmad’s arrest at the Berri hotel in Paris by French authorities, that the CAF president, who is also the FIFA vice-president by virtue of his position in African football, was being investigated by their Ethics Committee.

An Egyptian media outlet said Ahmad was detained because of a case in which German sportswear firm, Puma, complained it was elbowed out of a deal it had signed with CAF worth US$312 000, with Ahmad allegedly playing a key role in the cancelling of the deal, saying he wanted Adidas to supply the equipment. Puma are said to have asked for US$105 000 as a penalty for the cancellation of the deal, which Ahmad allegedly refused to pay, and a few months later, CAF entered into an agreement with Tactical Steel for the provision of the same equipment at the cost of US$1.2 million.

There had been indications that all was not well for Ahmad after FIFA president Gianni Infantino, who came to power on the promise he would clean a house that was almost brought down by the corruption scandals which swept away former president Sepp Blatter, cancelled his participation in the 2019 AFCON draw in Cairo in April.

Zimbabwe’s Warriors were drawn against the Pharaohs of the host country, Egypt, to open the 24-team tournament in Cairo on June 21.

Interestingly, if Ahmad remains detained or is asked to step aside, for now, Nigeria’s Amaju Pinnick, whose organisation is hosting the Warriors at a high-profile international friendly tomorrow, will take over as acting CAF boss.

‘’FIFA has taken note of the events concerning Mr Ahmad Ahmad, who is being questioned by the French authorities in relation to allegations related to his mandate while President of CAF,’’ FIFA said in a statement.

‘’FIFA is unaware of the details surrounding this investigation and is therefore not in a position to make any comment on it specifically.

FIFA is asking the French authorities for any information that might be relevant to investigations taking place within its Ethics Committee.

‘’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.

‘’Anyone found to have committed illicit or illegal acts has no place in football.

‘’FIFA is now clean from the scandals that tarnished its reputation and this same determination should prevail in governing bodies such as confederations. FIFA will be at the forefront of ensuring that this is enforced by everyone involved in football.’’

Ahmad was also flagged in the bloodbath, which has been looming for some time in African football corridors of power amid fears that some of the continental game’s heavyweights could face the music from FIFA as part of a brutal and widespread crackdown on the corruption orchestrated by banished former Qatari strongman Mohamed Bin Hammam.

At least 25 former and current African football leaders have been under the spotlight, for all the wrong reasons, after it emerged that their files, in which they received illicit funds from Bin Hammam, have not been closed.

Former African Footballer of the Year, Kalusha Bwalya, has already served his punishment after he was banned for receiving funds from Bin Hammam.

Ahmad also received cash from Hammam.

Complaints have been filed against him in Morocco, Paris and London with the CAF boss being accused of claiming almost US$18 000 in expenses from CAF for air travel and daily allowances for last year’s World Cup, despite it being a FIFA tournament which had nothing to do with CAF having to fund it.

FIFA footed the bill for Ahmad’s travel, accommodation and related costs, including a generous daily allowance, because of his role as the vice-president of the organisation.