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Aug 15, 2012

Mohamed bin Hammam plans fight

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates -- Mohamed bin Hammam said accusations he enriched his family and supporters while president of Asian soccer are politically motivated and that he plans to fight "this clear abuse of power and process at the hand of FIFA."

In a letter to 20 Asian associations, bin Hammam confirmed he made payments to soccer officials and others but said they came out of his own bank accounts and were driven by a desire to help those in need -- including Zhang Jilong, the current AFC president who ordered the PriceWaterhouseCoopers audit that instigated the investigation by FIFA's ethics committee.

"Jilong was one of those who came to me for financial support and I helped him with a significant amount from my personal account," bin Hammam wrote. "I will leave him to explain the circumstances of this to you if he wishes."

The 63-year-old Qatari had a lifetime soccer ban overturned in July by the Court of Arbitration for Sport following allegations he bribed Caribbean voters when he challenged Sepp Blatter for the FIFA presidency.

The accusations in the PWC audit are the subject of separate investigations by the Asian Football Confederation and FIFA, but have been described by Bin Hammam as "a repeat of what FIFA did immediately before I stood against Mr. Blatter in the presidential elections last year."

"This, of course, is yet another attempt by Zurich through the infinite tools and power of FIFA to diminish and insult Asia's name by attacking me directly following the annulment of my previous FIFA ban by the Court of Arbitration for Sport," bin Hammam wrote.

When contacted by The Associated Press, bin Hammam's U.S.-based lawyer Eugene Gulland confirmed Tuesday that the letter written on AFC letterhead was authentic.

Bin Hammam's letter cites the names of five people he says he helped, including two who have since died of cancer, one who had open-heart surgery, another for tuition fees for a FIFA program, and the family of a 16-year-old from Nepal who died while playing soccer.

"Let me declare that as a human being with the personal means to help and coming from a culture and society where this is seen as a duty, I am proud of these accusations, and I welcome them," bin Hammam wrote.

The audit accuses bin Hammam of receiving millions of dollars from individuals linked to AFC contracts and spending tens of thousands on items such as a honeymoon, dental work, haircuts and cash payments for his family. Payments are alleged to have been made to Asian, African and Caribbean soccer officials, including $250,000 to Jack Warner, the former longtime head of Caribbean soccer.

Tens of thousands of dollars were given to federation presidents and their relatives, the audit claimed, adding that most of it went into their personal bank accounts and none of it was for soccer-related expenses.

The audit said some commercial rights contracts were no-bid deals that were "considerably undervalued," and that $14 million in total was paid from several companies to the AFC for the "personal use of its president."

Bin Hammam also attacked the AFC for hiring former FBI director Louis Freeh's agency in the probe despite its evidence in the case that was overturned being "heavily criticized in the CAS judgment" for relying on "speculation rather than fact."

"My legal team has filed an immediate response to the actions of the AFC and FIFA in relation to my latest politically motivated ban," he wrote. "I will announce further steps very shortly."

Bin Hammam, who helped Qatar win the right to stage the 2022 World Cup, was AFC president from 2002 until last year.

He is serving a 90-day ban so FIFA independent prosecutor Michael Garcia can examine the audit, ensuring Bin Hammam can't immediately return to office and denying him a seat at the FIFA executive committee when it next meets in Zurich on Sept. 27-28.

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