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Kuwaiti sheikh steps aside from IOC after indictment

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GENEVA (AP) — Facing a criminal trial in Switzerland, Olympic powerbroker Sheikh Ahmad al Fahad al Sabah temporarily stepped aside from his IOC work on Monday.

The Kuwaiti sheikh denies wrongdoing but said in a statement he did not want “these politically motivated allegations to distract attention” from the Olympic movement’s work.

“Sheikh Ahmad has every confidence and trust in the Swiss courts and IOC Ethics Commission’s impartial due processes,” the statement from his personal office in Kuwait said. “He fully intends to continue serving the IOC again at the earliest opportunity.”

The sheikh has been indicted for forgery in Geneva and faces a prison sentence of up to 10 years, city daily Le Temps reported. The investigation arose from a dispute with another royal family member, who is a former prime minister of Kuwait.

Sheikh Ahmad has been an International Olympic Committee member for 26 years, a close ally of president Thomas Bach, and leads the global and Asian groups of national Olympic bodies. He also chairs an IOC panel which will give $500 million to Olympic bodies and athletes before the 2020 Tokyo Games.

He is due to be re-elected unopposed in Tokyo next week as president of the global Olympic group known as ANOC.

The IOC said in a statement its ethics panel can intervene for misconduct “even if it is not related to sport.”

The Olympic ethics panel had confirmed last year it was studying separate allegations against Sheikh Ahmad relating to bribery in international soccer elections.

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President of National Olympic Committees association leaves FIFA post amid bribery claims

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GENEVA (AP) — FIFA Council member Sheikh Ahmad Al Fahad Al Sabah of Kuwait is resigning from his soccer roles under pressure from allegations in an American federal court that he bribed Asian officials.

Sheikh Ahmad said Sunday in a statement he will withdraw from a May 8 election in Bahrain for the FIFA seat representing Asia, which he currently holds.

“I do not want these allegations to create divisions or distract attention from the upcoming AFC (Asian Football Confederation) and FIFA Congresses,” said the Kuwaiti royal, who denies any wrongdoing.

“Therefore, after careful consideration, I have decided it is in the best interests of FIFA and the AFC, for me to withdraw my candidacy for the FIFA Council and resign from my current football positions,” he said.

The long-time Olympic Council of Asia president contacted the ethics panels of FIFA and the IOC after the allegations were made in Brooklyn federal courthouse on Thursday.

FIFA audit committee member Richard Lai, an American citizen from Guam, pleaded guilty to wire fraud conspiracy charges related to taking around $1 million in bribes, including from Kuwaiti officials. The cash was to buy influence and help recruit other Asian soccer officials prepared to take bribes, Lai said in court.

Sheikh Ahmad resigned his candidacy ahead of a FIFA panel deciding whether to remove him on ethical grounds.

The FIFA Review Committee, which rules on the integrity of people seeking senior FIFA positions, has been studying the sheikh’s candidacy since the allegations emerged, The Associated Press reported on Saturday.

The FIFA ethics committee is making a separate assessment of whether to provisionally suspend the sheikh, a long-time leader of Kuwait’s soccer federation who was elected to FIFA’s ruling committee in 2015.

Resigning from his soccer positions does not necessarily put Sheikh Ahmad out of reach of FIFA ethics prosecutors and judges if any action was taken.

In 2012, former FIFA presidential candidate Mohamed bin Hammam of Qatar was banned for life by the ethics committee days after he resigned.

Bin Hammam was also clearly identified in Lai’s court hearing for having paid Lai a total of $100,000 in bribes to support the Qatari’s failed challenge to FIFA’s then-president Sepp Blatter in 2011. Bin Hammam was removed from that election contest in a Caribbean bribery case.

Sheikh Ahmad has also contacted the IOC’s ethics commission about the allegations against him, the IOC said on Saturday.

As president since 2012 of the global group of national Olympic bodies, known as ANOC, Sheikh Ahmad’s support has often been cited as key to winning Olympic election and hosting awards. The sheikh was widely credited for helping Thomas Bach win the IOC presidency in 2013.

Although Sheikh Ahmad was not named in Department of Justice and court documents last week, he has become one of the most significant casualties of the sprawling U.S. federal investigation of bribery and corruption in international soccer revealed two years ago.

The sheikh could be identified in a transcript of Lai’s court hearing which said “co-conspirator #2 was also the president of Olympic Council of Asia.” Sheikh Ahmad has been OCA president since 1991.

Co-conspirator #3 was described as having a “high-ranking” role at OCA, and also linked to the Kuwait soccer federation.

According to the published transcript, Lai claimed he “received at least $770,000 in wire transfers from accounts associated with Co-Conspirator #3 and the OCA between November of 2009 and about the fall of 2014.”

“I understood that the source of this money was ultimately Co-Conspirator #2 and on some occasion Co-Conspirator #3 told me to send him an email saying that I need funds so he could show the email to Co-Conspirator #2,” Lai said in court.

Lai admitted that he agreed to help recruit other Asian officials that voted in FIFA elections who would help Kuwait’s interests.

The Guam soccer federation leader since 2001, Lai pleaded guilty to wire fraud conspiracy charges and failing to disclose foreign bank accounts. He agreed to pay more than $1.1 million in forfeiture and penalties, and will be sentenced at a later date.

The American federal investigation of corruption linked to FIFA has indicted or taken guilty pleas from more than 40 people and marketing agencies linked to soccer in the Americas since 2015.

Lai’s case marked the first major step into Asia, and suggests other soccer officials potentially recruited by the Kuwait faction could be targeted.

The Asian election for FIFA seats on May 8 in Manama, Bahrain, is the same day as a FIFA Council meeting which the sheik will not attend. The FIFA congress is held in the city three days later.

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Kuwait being suspended by IOC

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WASHINGTON (AP) — For the second time in five years, Kuwait is being suspended by the IOC for political interference, which leaves its athletes in limbo for next year’s Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah, the Kuwaiti who heads the global association of national Olympic committees and is a senior IOC member, told The Associated Press that the Gulf country will be sanctioned by the IOC on Tuesday.

The move comes after Kuwait failed to amend its disputed sports legislation by the Oct. 27 deadline set by the International Olympic Committee. FIFA suspended Kuwait’s soccer association over the same issue two weeks ago.

“As a Kuwaiti, I am very sad,” Sheikh Ahmad said in an interview Monday night. “All of us are upset. It’s a very sad story. It’s [because of] human mistakes.”

The IOC is concerned about government meddling in the running of Kuwait’s Olympic committee and national sports federations. The IOC said the new sports law threatens the autonomy of the sports bodies and would mean Kuwait no longer complies with the Olympic Charter.

The suspension comes with Sheikh Ahmad in Washington to chair this week’s general assembly of the Association of National Olympic Committees. He does not sit on the Kuwaiti body and was not directly involved in negotiations between the IOC and Kuwait on the issue.

The sheikh said Kuwait is one of 206 national Olympic committees due to attend the ANOC meeting Thursday and Friday. He said the Kuwaiti delegates will be allowed to stay but won’t have any voting rights.

“I hope there will be an understanding very soon,” Sheikh Ahmad said, warning that otherwise a “whole generation of athletes” will suffer.

If the suspension is not lifted before next year’s Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Kuwaiti athletes would be barred from representing their country at the Games. The IOC would have to give them special dispensation to compete as individuals under the Olympic flag.

“I will give my full support to bring them,” the sheikh said.

Kuwait was suspended by the IOC in 2010, also in a dispute over government interference. The country was reinstated in 2012 ahead of the London Games after Kuwait’s ruler, Sheik Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah, pledged autonomy for the Olympic committee and promised new legislation for institutions governing sports.

Sheikh Ahmad said he couldn’t understand why Kuwait would now establish a law that goes back on the ruler’s pledge to the IOC.

“I think it’s related to politics because the sports minister has lost an election to the president of shooting,” he said.

In recent years, the IOC suspended the national Olympic bodies of India, Ghana and Panama for political interference, but all were eventually reinstated. The IOC recently gave Sri Lanka until the end of the year to revise its sports legislation or face suspension.

FIFA suspended Kuwait after it failed to change its sports law by Oct. 15. Kuwaiti teams and clubs are banned from international competition, and the association and its members are barred from receiving any FIFA development assistance.

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