Turmoil in CAF as President Ahmad, VP Omari Face Fresh FIFA Probe

There are strong indications that CAF President Ahmad Ahmad’s quest for a second term in office may hit a snag as the New York Times reported Thursday that new investigations have begun on the football governing body in Africa, CAF.

According to the international publication, FIFA ethics investigators have asked the two top football officials in Africa, Ahmad, the stand-aside President and Constant Omari, the powerful senior vice president to explain why they agreed to revise a television contract in a way that appeared to benefit a commercial partner over CAF.

This is the latest ethical concern for a governing body that was subject to direct FIFA oversight as recently as February.

Both Ahmad and Omari have been asked by FIFA to provide details about amendments to a television contract with the marketing company, Lagardere Sports.

The changes to the deal, which covers all of the region’s top club and international competitions, have the potential to move millions of dollars in losses from Lagardere Sports onto the books of the African football body, according to documents reviewed by The New York Times.

The new investigation is just the latest problem for Ahmad, who was briefly detained last year by French authorities investigating allegations of embezzlement and who faces a separate FIFA ethics probe involving complaints of sexual harassment by several female employees and consultants.

It also comes at a pivotal time for African football, which has lurched from crisis to crisis under his leadership: Ahmad is seeking a new four-year term early next year, and sanctions related to any of the open cases could disqualify him from running.

At the heart of FIFA’s new investigation was the decision by CAF, after discussions led by Omari and approved by Ahmad, to change the terms of a long-term contract with Lagardere Sports in a way that allowed the France-based company to reduce the minimum amount it guaranteed for CAF’s television rights and at the same time shed its responsibility to collect almost US$26.9 million in unpaid fees from a sub-licenser.

In agreeing to take on the risk of those unpaid fees, CAF’s leadership also agreed to pay Lagardère a US$6.7 million fee. In effect, CAF agreed to buy the unpaid debt at a discount, trusting that it could recover the full amount itself from a company that had already defaulted on the debt multiple times.

FIFA last month wrote to both Ahmad, who has taken a 20-day convalescence leave after contracting the coronavirus, and Omari, who on Monday (Nov 16) stepped in to temporarily fill in as CAF president, asking them to explain their decisions to alter the television deal.

If they do not, the men could face charges under FIFA’s ethics code. Like Ahmad, Omari, 62, is a member of FIFA’s governing council.

FIFA declined to comment on the new investigation, citing its policy of not commenting on the work of its ethics committee.

Ahmad declined to comment on the substance of the investigation, saying in a text message that he respected the principle of confidentiality even when others did not.

Omari, who has accumulated significant power in African football as the confederation’s No. 2 official, did not respond to a request for comment.

Television rights are football’s most lucrative source of revenue, and they were central to the criminal case brought by the US Department of Justice in 2015 against a group of officials and executives in the Americas who were found to have diverted hundreds of millions of dollars of income from broadcast contracts to accounts they controlled.

That case has led to a host of criminal convictions, and to new investigations in Switzerland and France related to the sale of World Cup television rights in territories across the globe.

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