- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 3, 2016

GENEVA (AP) - A FIFA decision to block funding for the scandal-hit North and South American regional soccer bodies was criticized by presidential candidate Prince Ali of Jordan for its timing and lack of transparency.

“Who decided to hold these votes to ransom less than three weeks before the election and who exactly will decide when the funding will be reinstated,” Prince Ali said Wednesday in a statement.

On Monday, FIFA confirmed that basic funding worth up to $20 million was stopped to CONCACAF and CONMEBOL, which combine for 45 of the 209 member federations that will vote in the presidential election on Feb. 26. The statement was unclear about who made the decision and when.

Six recent presidents of CONCACAF or CONMEBOL, plus other top officials, have been indicted on corruption charges in the United States.

FIFA said it wanted to “increase the level of assurance” about how money was being spent before letting funds flow.

On Wednesday, the FIFA audit committee said it stopped the payments. The independent panel, which is chaired by Swiss businessman Domenico Scala, reviews “risk management” in FIFA’s billion-dollar annual spending.

Scala also chairs the FIFA election monitoring committee, which must remain neutral in the contest.

“Who decided that 45 member associations should suffer collective punishment as a result of individuals’ bad actions?” Prince Ali questioned.

Scala’s spokesman, Andreas Bantel, declined to comment in detail to The Associated Press on any candidate’s campaign.

Details of financial problems for CONCACAF and CONMEBOL put money on center stage of an election campaign that FIFA hopes will help revive its tattered reputation on Feb. 26, when wide-ranging governance and anti-corruption reforms should also be voted through.

Still, cash promises are a big feature in election pitches.

Last week, about 20 voters from CONCACAF and CONMEBOL publicly pledged to support Gianni Infantino of Switzerland, who has made specific financial offers.

Infantino, the UEFA general secretary, says members should each get $5 million from FIFA over a four-year World Cup commercial cycle. They got $2.05 million tied to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

Prince Ali has set a goal of $4 million over four years.

Infantino also promised more cash for the six continental confederations - $40 million each over four years - and new money for smaller, regional bodies who could claim an average of $1 million annually to organize youth tournaments.

Infantino is seen as a rival for Sheikh Salman of Bahrain, the Asian confederation president, in a campaign that also includes former FIFA official Jerome Champagne of France and South African businessman Tokyo Sexwale.

A key meeting in Rwanda on Friday could see the leadership of Africa endorse a candidate. The Confederation of African Football signed a working agreement with Sheikh Salman’s AFC at a previous meeting in Rwanda three weeks ago.

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