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Attack on freedom of press: Singapore court orders journalist to reveal sources #FIFAcorruption

A Singapore court has ordered veteran journalist and scholar James M. Dorsey to reveal his sources for his reporting on an audit of suspended world soccer body FIFA vice president and Asian Football Confederation (AFC) president Mohammed Bin Hammam’s management of AFC’s finances and agreement with a Singapore-based company on the group’s marketing rights.

The court accepted a demand by World Sports Group (WSG) to instruct the journalist and scholar to reveal his sources on the grounds that the audit was confidential and that the sources had defamed the company.

The court in a four-hour hearing however stayed its decision pending an appeal that Mr. Dorsey’s lawyers, N. Sreenivasan and Sujatha Selvakumar of Straits Law Practice LLC, will submit in the coming days.

Mr. Dorsey’s lawyers argued that he was not a party to any confidentiality agreement and that if WSG had an issue it should take it up with the AFC to whom the original report was addressed. The lawyers noted further that the code of ethics of journalists in Singapore as well as in numerous Asian countries, including Malaysia and Hong Kong shield journalists from revealing sources.

In an affidavit to the court, Mr. Dorsey asserted that he believed that WSG’s legal action was an attempt at “indirectly discovering who within the AFC may have breached their confidentiality and also suppress any well meaning or good intended person from coming forward in the future and is seeking to punitively punish those who may have spoken against them.”

WSG has said it applied to the High Court to force Mr. Dorsey to reveal his sources with the intention of launching possible defamation or breach of confidence proceedings. “We want information so we can determine what charges to make and against whom,” WSG lawyer Deborah Barker told Agence France Presse.

The internal AFC audit conducted by PriceWaterhouse Coopers (PwC) charged that Mr. Bin Hammam had used an AFC sundry account as his personal account, questioned the terms and negotiation procedure of a $1 billion marketing rights agreement between WSG and the AFC and raised questions of $14 million in payments by a WSG shareholder to Mr. Bin Hammam prior to the signing of the agreement.

In its report, PwC said that “it is highly unusual for funds (especially in the amounts detailed here) that appear to be for the benefit of Mr Hammam personally, to be deposited to an organization’s bank account. In view of the recent allegations that have surrounded Mr Hammam, it is our view that there is significant risk that…the AFC may have been used as a vehicle to launder funds and that the funds have been credited to the former President for an improper purpose (Money Laundering risk)” or that “the AFC may have been used as a vehicle to launder the receipt and payment of bribes.”

Malaysian police earlier this month arrested the husband of an associate of Mr. Bin Hammam on suspicion of helping steal documents related to one of the payments to Mr. Bin Hammam from AFC’s head office in Kuala Lumpur.

WSG has refused to comment on the PwC report and has threatened reporters, including the author of this report, with defamation proceedings. However in an August 28, 2012 letter to this reporter WSG Group Legal Advisor Stephanie McManus asserted that “PWC are incorrect and misconceived in suggesting that the MRA was undervalued. They have neither considered the terms of the contract correctly, the market, nor the circumstances in which it was negotiated,” Ms. McManus wrote.

The master rights agreement is controversial both because of the unexplained payments as well as assertions by sources close to the AFC that the soccer group, in line with common practice among international sport associations, should have concluded a service provider rather than a master rights agreement with WSG. The sources said such an agreement would have given the AFC greater control of its rights and how they are exploited and enabled it to better supervise the quality of services provided by WSG.

In a July 13 letter to lawyers Shearn Delamore & Co, PWC explicitly leaves open the possibility that the AFC might share the report with third parties. For that reason, the terms of the report contain a clause that shields PwC from any liability should the AFC choose to share the report with non-AFC institutions or persons.

The letter stipulates that the report is intended “solely for the internal use and benefit of Shearn Delamore & Co. and the Asian Football Confederation,” and that third parties are not authorised to have access to the report. The letter however goes on to say that should third parties gain access they agree that the report was compiled in accordance with instructions by the law firm and the AFC and that PwC is not liable for any consequences stemming from the fact that third parties had been granted access.

Lawyers for FIFA earlier this year sought unsuccessfully to introduce the report in Mr. Bin Hammam’s appeal proceedings in the Lausanne-based Court of Arbitration of Sport  against the world soccer body’s banning for life of the Qatari national from involvement on soccer on charges of bribery.

Both FIFA and the AFC have suspended M. Bin Hammam on the basis of the report pending further investigation of the allegations in the PwC report and separate charges that he last year sought to bribe Caribbean soccer officials. Mr. Bin Hammam has denied all allegations and charges.

James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore and the author of the blog, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer.

JW said on 4. Oktober 2012 at 10:42 #1

Die jüngste Entwicklung:

Singapore court to hear appeal in disclosure of sources case

A Singapore judge is scheduled to hear an appeal on October 18 by veteran journalist and scholar James M. Dorsey against an earlier court decision that ordered him to disclose sources in a case that is being closely watched by media organizations and freedom of the press groups.

Mr. Dorsey is appealing a decision earlier this month by an assistant registrar in favour of Singapore-based World Sports Group (WSG), which had petitioned the court to order the journalist to reveal his sources for his reporting on the group’s relationship with suspended and disgraced world soccer body FIFA vice president and Asian Football Confederation (AFC) president Mohammed Bin Hammam and its $1 billion marketing agreement with the Asian group.

WSG filed its petition in preparation of a potential defamation suit against Mr. Dorsey and his sources because of the journalist’s extensive reporting on an internal audit by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) of Mr. Bin Hammam’s management of AFC’s finances that asserted that he had used a sundry account as his personal account. The report raised questions about the valuation, the terms and the negotiation process of the WSG agreement and disclosed that a WSG shareholder had made $14 million in unexplained payments to Mr. Bin Hammam while the contract was being negotiated.

Neither WSG nor the shareholder, International Sports Events (ISE), an entity owned by Saudi billionaire Saleh Kamel have offered an explanation for the payments. The PwC report said that ISE had paid Mr. Bin Hammam $2 million while Al Baraka Investment and Development Co., another entity belonging to Mr. Kamel, paid the AFC official $12 million. “We understand that the Al Baraka Group may have (through the Arab Radio & Television Co., which it owns) been a 20% beneficial owner of the WSG group at that time,” the PwC report said.

Despite denying the allegations in the PwC report in an August 28 letter to Mr. Dorsey that threatened legal proceedings, WSG legal counsel Stephanie McManus conceded that “your ‘sources’ must have a very deep knowledge of the matters referred to in your article.”

Mr. Dorsey’s appeal is being heard at a time at which world soccer is being wracked by the worst corruption scandal in its history. Mr. Bin Hammam is the focus of at least three investigations. The Lausanne-based Court of Arbit,ration of Sport earlier this year overturned a FIFA decision banning Mr. Bin Hammam from involvement in soccer for life on the grounds that FIFA’s investigation had been shoddy, but stressed that its verdict was not a pronouncement of innocence of the Qatari national. The court urged FIFA to resubmit its case after properly putting it together.

Mr. Dorsey’s lawyers, N. Sreenivasan and Sujatha Selvakumar of Straits Law Practice LLC, said they were looking to reschedule the appeal “to allow us to canvass all of the issues before the judge.”

In its report, PwC said that “it is highly unusual for funds (especially in the amounts detailed here) that appear to be for the benefit of Mr Hammam personally, to be deposited to an organization’s bank account. In view of the recent allegations that have surrounded Mr Hammam, it is our view that there is significant risk that…the AFC may have been used as a vehicle to launder funds and that the funds have been credited to the former President for an improper purpose (Money Laundering risk)” or that “the AFC may have been used as a vehicle to launder the receipt and payment of bribes.”

Malaysian police last month arrested the husband of an associate of Mr. Bin Hammam on suspicion of helping steal documents related to one of the payments to Mr. Bin Hammam from AFC’s head office in Kuala Lumpur.

Media organizations and freedom of the press groups are closely monitoring the case because it is likely to set a precedent for journalists operating in Singapore and elsewhere. “This is a case that is certain to influence how we operate in future,” said one media executive.

Prominent media lawyer Mark Stephens of London-based Finer Stephens Innocent told Media Lawyer Bulletin that “the decision of the Singapore court runs counter to Commonwealth and international jurisprudence on disclosure of sources and can only serve to chill the exposure of information coming freely into the public domain. It will be a very retrograde decision if it is allowed to stand.”

Gianni Merlo, president of the international sports media association (AIPS), cautioned that WSG’s effort to silence Mr. Dorsey could prove the first of many. “Every journalist has a duty to report the truth and the great concern about many sport organisations has been a lack of transparency about their business dealings. It is absolutely unacceptable that rich powerful companies should try to hide their business behind legal threats. Freedom of expression should be the right of every journalist in every country and the judicial authorities should ensure this for the sake of the health of their own societies,” Mr. Merlo said in an article on AIPS’ website.

In an affidavit to the court, Mr. Dorsey asserted that he believed that WSG’s legal action was an attempt at “indirectly discovering who within the AFC may have breached their confidentiality and also suppress any well-meaning or good intended person from coming forward in the future and is seeking to punitively punish those who may have spoken against them.”

WSG lawyer Deborah Barker effectively confirmed Mr. Dorsey’s assertion by telling Agence France Presse that “we want information so we can determine what charges to make and against whom,” a move designed to foreclose transparency and stifle rather than stimulate legitimate debate on an issue in which key players are suspected of corrupt practices.

ha said on 4. Oktober 2012 at 11:39 #2

Mir hat sich – weil bisher nur flüchtig wahrgenommen – gerade erst erschlossen, um welche Dimension es abseits der Attacke “on freedom of press” geht: um 14 Millionen US-Dollar Bestechungsgeld für Bin Hammam, gewaschen über ein AFC-Konto. Wenn sich der PWC-Audit bestätigen sollte: einer der größten bisher bekannt gewordenen Fälle von Korruption im Sport. (Gleich nach ISL, wie dort für Medien- und Vermarktungsrechte.)

Kann man eingedenk der hiesigen Berichterstattung – Bin Hammam als ausschließlich eine Art Blatter-Opfer – noch mal auf Deutsch sagen ;)

Ralf said on 4. Oktober 2012 at 12:28 #3

14 Millionen US-Dollar Bestechungsgeld [...] einer der größten bisher bekannt gewordenen Fälle von Korruption im Sport

Peanuts im Vergleich zu Gribkowsky! ;-)

ha said on 4. Oktober 2012 at 13:05 #4

@Ralf

Meinst Du, der hat noch Chancen, zum Sportfunktionär aufzusteigen?

Ernsthaft: Nach bisherigen Vorwürfen galt Bin Hammam als “Geber” (ob nun in Blatter-Wahlkämpfen, in der Karibik oder sonstwo). Als Nehmer bisher meines Wissens nach nicht (da, die gern gebrauchte Argumentation, selbst “steinreich”). Ist schon eine neue Qualität. Echte Ganoven spielen in dem Geschäft wohl alle Seiten der Korruptionsklaviatur.

JW said on 4. Oktober 2012 at 13:13 #5

Auch typisch für die “Ermittlungen” der FIFA (oder nun Garcia):

Najeeb ist eine Art Sekretär für MBH, den kennt jeder in der Szene und jeder, der als Journalist mal mit MBH zu tun hatte. MBH hat andere Partner auf Augenhöhe und andere um sich herum. Najeeb zu sperren, weil er “nicht kooperiert” oder wie es formuliert wurde, ist lächerlich. Das suggeriert Härte und Ermittlungsbereitschaft. Najeeb ist, ich füge mal ein: sehr wahrscheinlich, das schwächste Glied in der Kette. Er ist ein Angestellter, der viel zu verlieren hat.

ha said on 17. Dezember 2012 at 19:53 #6

Entgegen anderslautenden Berichten ;) hat die FIFA bzw. haben deren neue Kammern Bin Hammam lebenslang gesperrt:

FIFA: Media release

Sicher ausschließlich eine Blatter-Verschwörung, die den Mangel an Unabhängigkeit der beiden Kammern unter Garcia und Eckert anzeigt. Wo doch Bin Hammam über die Vorwürfe aus den AFC-Ermittlungen (betreffen 18 Millionen Dollar) eh nur lacht. So als Opfer und Gentleman, als der er in deutschen Medien noch gelegentlich daherkommt.

ha said on 18. Dezember 2012 at 17:19 #7

James M. Dorsey mit einer Analyse auf seinem Blog:

Bin Hammam banning puts AFC marketing contract in the firing line

Geht nicht um 18 Mio., die an MBH geflossen sein sollen, nur um 14 Millionen ;)

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