Controversial football head Colin Klass faced the greatest challenge yet to his career when FIFA suspended him yesterday as part of an ethics probe of a bribery scandal that has shaken regional associations.
In an invited comment, Klass, who has headed the Guyana Football Federation (GFF) since 1989, said that he will “comply with but at the same time he will appeal the provisional suspension”. According to Klass, who is also a Caribbean Football Union (CFU) vice president, he does not understand why investigations are being reopened and viewed the action as unjustified.
However, he noted that he will “not do anything to impede or affect Guyana’s football”, adding that he “will fear no evil because I am not worried”.
“My position remains the same and I will be outspoken about it. They (FIFA’s Ethics Committee) are going about things in the wrong way”, Klass declared.
Klass reiterated his position that he has no knowledge of any wrongdoing.
When asked whether he believes that FIFA was cleaning house after the suspension and subsequent resignation of Caribbean football mogul Austin ‘Jack’ Warner, Klass said that he did not want to speculate on whether they were trying to get back at anybody in particular.
FIFA’s Ethics Committee yesterday opened ethics proceedings against 16 CFU officials regarding apparent violations of the Code of Ethics connected to the investigation that stemmed from a special meeting of the CFU held in Trinidad & Tobago on May 10 and 11. At that meeting it was alleged that former presidential candidate and banned FIFA executive, Qatari Mohammed bin Hammam offered delegates of the 25 CFU states US$40,000 each for their votes at FIFA’s elections last June.
Klass has been provisionally suspended from taking part in any football-related activity, administratively, sports or any other form, by Switzerland’s Claudio Sulser, chairman of the Ethics Committee, after the committee had received specific information.
Judge Robert T. Torres, a member of the Ethics Committee, will be supervising and directing the investigation. Torres, with the approval of the committee, has engaged Freeh Group International Europe (FGI Europe) and the secretariat of the Ethics Committee to assist the committee with this task.
The 16 officials will be contacted by the Ethics Committee to arrange further interviews in connection with these proceedings.
The 16 officials are as follows: Colin Klass, Noel Adonis (Guyana), David Hinds, Mark Bob Forde (Barbados), Franka Pickering, Aubrey Liburd (British Virgin Islands), David Frederick (Cayman Islands),
Osiris Guzman, Felix Ledesma (Dominican Republic), Yves Jean-Bart (Haiti), Anthony Johnson (St. Kitts and Nevis), Patrick Mathurin (St. Lucia), Joseph Delves, Ian Hypolite (St. Vincent and the Grenadines), Richard Groden (Trinidad and Tobago) and Hillaren Frederick (US Virgin Islands).
General Secretary of the GFF, Noel Adonis, who is also named to meet with investigators, told Stabroek Sport that he “would imagine that the Ethics Committee would want to meet with me again because my story was too good to be true”. When Adonis had previously met with investigators in The Bahamas he had told them that he had no knowledge of any monies being received or offered by bin Hammam.
He had also repeatedly stated that Guyana’s representative, himself and GFF vice president Carlos Prowell, never received nor were offered any money. According to Adonis he will meet with investigators again but maintained that he has no idea why they would want to summon him.
Prowell was not summoned for this fresh probe because he did not meet with investigators in The Bahamas since he could not obtain a visa for the US. Prowell had told this publication that no money was offered or received by Guyana.
Prowell had also said that when “I found out what the gifts were we [himself and Adonis] decided we were not going to accept it, adding that he had overheard what the gift contained from discussions by some members in the hotel lobby and that it would have been unethical for him to discuss the matter further.”
Meanwhile, when this newspaper spoke to some football officials they expressed mixed emotions. One ventured to say that he “it was a happy day and that he will be going to a bar, drink some beers and get drunk”, adding “this is a victory for football in Guyana and now is the time for all associations in Guyana to come together and celebrate … it was a long time coming”.
These comments came on the heels of some Georgetown clubs being summoned by the GFF for taking part in a recently held Georgetown Football Association (GFA) Futsal tournament. The GFF and the GFA have been locked in a crippling row for years now which ended with the GFA being granted an injunction stopping the elections of the GFF.
Yesterday, president of the GFA, Lieutenant Commander Vernon Burnett said that he was heartened and saddened by this latest development. These contrasting emotions came about because Klass and Adonis, whom he labelled as Klass’ right hand man, were named by FIFA’s Ethics Committee.
“This is great news for football in Guyana. I am actually very saddened and heartened by the news. Saddened by the fact that senior officials involved in the development of football or the most senior person involved in the development of football in Guyana had to be in such a situation. But I am also heartened by the news because the same individual (Klass) has been hampering the development of football for the longest period in Guyana.
“The Georgetown Football Association has been under pressure from the GFF for a number of years and has been hampering our development. Just recently we had our Futsal tournament and the GFF wrote the Referees’ Council (GFRC) instructing them not to participate in our tournament and for the teams that participated the GFF made every effort to pressure and sideline them from participating in future GFA activities, hence the teams that participated in the Futsal were barred from participating in GT&T’s Fastball”, Burnett explained.
According to Burnett the teams were written to to attend a disciplinary hearing next week by the GFF.
On the other hand when this newspaper spoke with a government official, who wished to remain anonymous, he said that Guyana’s football has been thrust on the international scene for the wrong reason. He indicated while all the information has not yet come in it would be hard to judge Klass.
However, he noted that since the investigations seem to be taking the same route as that of Warner’s, who was Klass’ close ally, it “would be better if Klass jumps before he is pushed”.
The source believes that FIFA is “cleaning house” and the “CFU states no longer have the shade of Warner to hide under since he was the glue that held Caribbean football together”.
The source added, “The mere fact that FIFA has called these people again means that they have some meat on them”.
The source hoped though that the probes do not seek to push football development back.
The bribery scandal resulted in bin Hammam being banned by FIFA for life and has also ensnared Trinidadian football strongman Warner who quit all his posts in international football in what was seen as a bid to avoid an investigation of his role in the matter. Warner has also come under pressure in Port-of-Spain over whether he should quit as a minister in the Kamla Persad-Bissessar administration.
Other regional football officials have already been sanctioned.
Caribbean Football Union officials Jason Sylvester and Debbie Minguell, received one-year bans at the enquiry that banned bin Hammam. This week FIFA also banned Barbadian Lisle Austin for one year after he went to court in The Bahamas to try to force through his claim to succeed Jack Warner as president of the CONCACAF federation.
At the core of the scandal is an allegation that bin Hammam passed around envelopes crammed with money to sway Caribbean Football Union (CFU) delegates to vote for him in his then pending contest with incumbent Sepp Blatter. Several of the CFU delegations had later expressed shock at seeing money in the envelopes at the meeting. It was The Bahamas delegate, Fred Lunn who upon seeing the money immediately contacted his superior and was advised to return the cash. He also took photographs of the bundles of cash and this was later used as evidence in the FIFA investigation.
Several other delegations also returned cash later while others said they had not received any.
It then became a question of whether Guyana’s football officials would tell all about what had transpired at the meeting and if they would cooperate with the FIFA probe.
Local officials gave mixed signals about cooperating with the FIFA probe but denied receiving cash or being involved in wrongdoing.
FIFA eventually gave all Caribbean branches 48 hours to cooperate and to “provide and report all relevant information in their possession” about the meeting at the Hyatt Regency hotel where bin Hammam had allegedly offered cash for votes before the FIFA elections.
Klass then told the media that the GFF would not be responding to FIFA since it had not been informed of such a directive.
He pointed out though that if it should reach that juncture the GFF will respond since the “federation has nothing to hide.”
Klass had also refuted claims that he was ever in any room where money was offered when bin Hammam met with members of the CFU at the meeting in Trinidad. The investigation and subsequent report into the bribery claims by ex-FBI chief Louis Freeh, owner of Freeh Group International (FGI) Europe – the private investigative agency, claimed that Klass went into the room where the money was reportedly shared out, according to a testimony by The Bahamas vice-president, Lunn.
Klass continued, “I was there at intervals and those intervals I knew nothing of no money. I was never in no room where any money was issued so whoever want to put in whatever report could say whatever they want. It has nothing to do with me.”
Klass had also pointed out that he could not have collected any money because he did not represent Guyana but rather was in the capacity as Vice President of the CFU. He also said that to the best of his knowledge no member of the CFU executive received any money.