The first vice-president of FINA, Husain Al Musallam, the man at the heart of a Kuwaiti succession plan for the international swimming federation, has been implicated in the latest development in the FIFA corruption scandal.
Al Musallam, at the centre of a conflict-of-interest complaint lodged with the Court of Arbitration for Sport by fellow member of the FINA executive Paolo Barelli, has been effectively identified in a U.S. Department of Justice indictment as a co-conspirator who allegedly paid bribes to a football official, Richard Lai, from Guam, The Times reports in an exclusive that broke the story.
Al Musallam was backed for the newly created first vice-president role by FINA president Julio Maglione in a 2015 vote and a tale that stretches to the corridors of power at the International Olympic Committee.
Al Musallam is the director general of the Olympic Council of Asia and and is the right-hand man to Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah, the Fifa council member who resigned from his football positions on Sunday after being identified as “co-conspirator No 2” in the U.S. indictment.
The indictment also states that “co-conspirator No 3” was “a high-ranking official of the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) and an official of the Kuwait Football Association (KFA)”. That is believed to refer to Al-Musallam, director general of the OCA and vice-chairman (international relations) of the KFA.
The FINA successsion plan much debated in swimming circles and being challenged by Barelli holds that Maglione, standing for the presidency once more this July in a move that breaks two of his election pledges when he came to office in 2009 – namely that he would stand for one term only and insist that future presidents would be limited to two terms only – will step aside half-way through his third term to make way for the Sheikh’s man, Al Musallam.
Maglione had the constitution changed to “two-terms only” and then, during his second term in office, he had it changed back to suit moves that included having Al Musallam promoted to the newly created post of “first vice-president” last year.
FINA sits on a bank account of around $300 million and senior figures in Lausanne who regard the succession plan with a skeptical eye tell SwimVortex that “anyone linked to the FIFA scandal should not be allowed to get anywhere near swimming’s assets”.
Asked by The Times about Al Musallam’s involvement, the OCA said in a statement: “The OCA has been surprised by the allegations of illegal payments allegedly made to Richard Lai. The OCA strongly deny any wrongdoing and has asked the OCA ethics committee to carry out a full review.” Since then, Al Musallam has joined the Sheikh in denying any wrongdoing. Internal reviews are likely to play second fiddle to the judgments of a court of law in the United States, however.
Al Musallam is the subject of a complaint from Barelli, the Italian Hon. Sec of FINA taking on Maglione for the FINA presidency this July. Maglione and three fellow FINA executives refused Barelli’s request to have his complaints against Al Musallam and USA Swimming‘s man at the top table of FINA, Dale Neuburger heard by the FINA Ethics Panel. Al Musallam insisted that his case was heard, however, but the Ethics Panel now faces questions about the circumstance in which a three-man panel – including Kuwaiti Abdulla Al Hayyan – heard the Kuwaiti’s evidence but did not give Barelli a right of response.
A source in Lausanne told SwimVortex:
“You would expect the Kuwaiti member of the panel to step aside given that the subject of complaint was a man from his own country. And with that we have to wonder how it is possible for all this to be happening at a time when Kuwait is suspended by the IOC, by FINA and lots of other sports federations. Suspension should mean that the officials from the country suspended cannot take part in the governance of sport. How come these people are still there and playing a role? Something is rotten in the state of Denmark, as the saying goes – and it is now being put to the test.”
The allegations against Al Musallam follow a court appearance last week at which Lai, a Fifa audit committee member, pleaded guilty to wire fraud conspiracy charges related to taking about $1 million (£775,000) in bribes. The court heard that this included at least $850,000 from Kuwaiti officials, senior figures on the OCA, to buy influence and help recruit other Asian soccer officials.
In the Barelli case against Al Musallam, the Kuwaiti stands accused of interfering in elections for the European Swimming League, of which the Italian is president once more after roundly defeating the Kuwaiti’s chosen challenger Erik Van Heijningen, of The Netherlands, last year.
Swiss legal outfit Carrard and the Ethics Panel, in both 2015 and last year, warned the FINA Executive that their rules were conflicted when it came to who could refer complaints to the Ethics Panel for consideration.
Meanwhile, the U.S. indictment states that from 2009 to 2014 Lai received at least $770,000 in “wire transfers from accounts in Kuwait controlled by co-conspirator No 3 or his assistants at the OCA”.
Neither the IOC nor FINA responded to requests for comment made by The Times. SwimVortex has also posed several questions to FINA and awaits response.
The latest development adds to FINA’s woes and makes Maglione’s reelection all the less attractive. On his watch as president, a catalogue of woe includes legal action taken against two members of the ruling FINA Bureau, namely Ben Ekumbo in Kenya and Coaracy Nunes in Brazil have faced (and still do) corruption charges at home – both men having been removed from office at the helm of thei national swim federations.
In July 2015, SwimVortex published an editorial under the headline “Kuwait Succession In Place As FINA Swims Against The Olympic Tide On Age Limits”. That included the story of the Sheikh, his man in FINA and the succession plan that now looks to be heading for stormy seas just as one of its architects, Julio Maglione, faces a fight for survival that may also determine whether FINA itself survives.