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Bin Hammam wins appeal in FIFA bribery case

GENEVA (AP) - Former FIFA presidential candidate Mohamed bin Hammam won his appeal against a lifetime ban but failed to clear his name in an election bribery case on Thursday.

The Qatari official scored a victory at the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which lifted his life ban from soccer imposed by FIFA for allegedly bribing voters during his election challenge to Sepp Blatter last year.

However, the court panel refused to declare Bin Hammam innocent of corruption. It overturned the ban because a FIFA probe led by former FBI director Louis Freeh’s agency failed to find conclusive evidence.

“It is a situation of `case not proven,’ coupled with concern on the part of the Panel that the FIFA investigation was not complete or comprehensive enough to fill the gaps in the record,” sport’s highest court said in a statement.

Despite his win, Bin Hammam faces more legal battles.

Bin Hammam faces new charges of bribery at the Asian Football Confederation, where he was president until the election scandal. The AFC claimed this week financial mismanagement by Bin Hammam was discovered in a forensic audit of its accounts.

So instead of trying to return to office, he told the BBC’s World Service on Thursday that he could simply walk away.

“My wish now is just to quit and retire,” Bin Hammam told the World Football program. “I’ve served football for 42 years. This last year I have seen a very ugly face of the sport.”

FIFA responded to the CAS verdict “with concern”, saying it will ask its newly appointed independent prosecutor Michael J. Garcia to re-examine the case.

“The FIFA Ethics Committee will then decide based on the reports and evidence presented to it if any action is required to be taken against Mohamed bin Hammam,” FIFA said in a statement.

Bin Hammam’s victory at CAS will only partly restore his shattered reputation.

The panel, which was split 2-1 in his favor, “is not making any sort of affirmative finding of innocence in relation to Mr. Bin Hammam,” the court said. “It is more likely than not that Mr. Bin Hammam was the source of the monies that were brought into Trinidad and Tobago” at an election campaign rally in May 2011.

FIFA got evidence from Caribbean whistleblowers who said they were offered $40,000 cash bribes during the 63-year-old Qatari’s campaign visit.

Bin Hammam denied wrongdoing, claiming Blatter helped orchestrate a scandal to guarantee his election victory unopposed a few weeks later.

The ruling Thursday followed a two-day hearing in April at the court in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Bin Hammam, who refused to attend FIFA hearings that enforced the life ban, did not attend or testify. Blatter gave evidence by video link from FIFA headquarters in Zurich.

FIFA’s failed prosecution used evidence gathered by Freeh’s team. It found “substantial credible evidence that cash was offered to and accepted” by Caribbean Football Union delegates after Bin Hammam made his election pitch at a Port of Spain hotel.

FIFA’s code of ethics prohibits officials receiving any cash gifts, yet Caribbean officials were given brown envelopes stuffed with piles of $100 bills.

On Thursday, the CAS panel published its dissatisfaction with the quality of evidence.

“No efforts were made to trace the source of (the) banknotes that were photographed,” the court said, adding that perhaps if Bin Hammam had done the same “it would have confirmed that he was the source.”

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