- Associated Press - Thursday, May 26, 2011

ZURICH (AP) - FIFA presidential candidate Mohamed bin Hammam fought back in an increasingly bitter election fight Thursday, calling for Sepp Blatter to be investigated in a spiraling bribery scandal.

Bin Hammam urged the FIFA ethics panel, which is investigating him over allegations he tried to bribe voters in the Caribbean, to also examine the FIFA president’s behavior.

The Qatari challenger said that evidence submitted to FIFA suggests Blatter broke the world soccer governing body’s code of ethics by not reporting an apparent corruption attempt.

“The accusations also contain statements according to which Mr. Blatter, the incumbent FIFA president, was informed of, but did not oppose, payments allegedly made to members of the Caribbean Football Union,” bin Hammam said in a statement.

Bin Hammam insisted that the scandal is a concerted “plan to damage” him and force him to withdraw from next Wednesday’s election.

The counter claim provided another twist in an astonishing week for soccer’s increasingly dysfunctional and discredited governing body.

Bin Hammam’s attack on his former ally was issued three hours after the two men met and hugged at FIFA headquarters before a scheduled meeting of its finance committee.

At about the same time, Blatter’s regular campaign column for a soccer website talked of bin Hammam’s “public humiliation,” and denied the allegations were timed to wreck his opponent’s chances of taking over football’s top job.

Blatter wrote that he was “shocked” by the corruption allegations against bin Hammam which shed “a very bad light on FIFA yet again,” days before the scheduled presidential vote.

“It gives me no pleasure to see (bin Hammam) suffer public disgrace before an investigation would even have started,” Blatter said in a column on the Inside World Football website.

Bin Hammam, the Asian Football Confederation president, and FIFA vice president Jack Warner face an ethics hearing in Zurich on Sunday over allegations stemming from the Qatari’s May 10-11 campaign trip to Trinidad.

“I take no joy to see men who stood by my side for some two decades, suffer through public humiliation without having been convicted of any wrongdoing,” Blatter said.

The ethics panel can effectively hand Blatter victory in the election by suspending bin Hammam from all soccer duty. The panel could rule that wrongdoing was proven, or it could provisionally bar bin Hammam if it requests more time to study evidence compiled by a federal prosecutor from Chicago who works for Warner’s CONCACAF regional body.

Though expressing sympathy for his longtime Qatari ally, Blatter said he admires American official Chuck Blazer’s “civic courage” for reporting the alleged bribery to FIFA headquarters.

Blatter was indignant at suggestions he was part of a conspiracy to remove his election rival from the race.

“To now assume that the present ordeal of my opponent were to fill me with some sort of perverse satisfaction or that this entire matter was somehow masterminded by me is ludicrous and completely reprehensible,” he said. “No sane person can take pleasure in this development, and no decent person will enjoy the troubles of others, be that friend or foe.”

The two executive committee colleagues met briefly Thursday, according to FIFA’s senior vice president, Julio Grondona.

“They hugged in the room. There was no problem,” the Argentine finance panel chairman said.

Blatter acknowledged that the latest scandal rocking FIFA _ after years of allegations of financial wrongdoing, ticket scalping and vote buying _ was a “storm of its own creation.”

“What FIFA needs is ironclad laws that are implemented forcefully and allow world football’s governing body to conduct its affairs transparently, properly and professionally in every respect,” he said.

Blatter, who joined FIFA in 1975 and has been president for 13 years, is seeking a fourth and final four-year term from FIFA’s 208 national members.

The 75-year-old Swiss pledged to “open the doors, reinforce dialogue, improve our corporate governance and handle our public affairs with the kind of priority it deserves and must deliver.”

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