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Zurich • FIFA suspended two executive committee members Sunday amid allegations they bribed voters in the presidential election campaign. Soccer's governing body also cleared FIFA President Sepp Blatter of ignoring the alleged bribes.
The decisions pave the way for Blatter to be re-elected unopposed to a fourth term Wednesday despite the gravest corruption crisis in FIFA history.
Mohamed bin Hammam, a Qatari who leads Asia's soccer confederation, and Jack Warner, a FIFA vice president from Trinidad, will now face a full FIFA inquiry, the soccer body said. If found guilty, they could be expelled from FIFA and banned from all soccer activity.
The payments were allegedly made to secure votes for bin Hammam in his campaign to unseat Blatter.
Bin Hammam withdrew as a candidate earlier Sunday.
The ethics commission said there was sufficient evidence to further investigate allegations that bin Hammam and Warner offered $40,000 bribes to delegates at a Caribbean soccer association meeting May 10-11 in Trinidad.
The payments were allegedly made to secure votes for bin Hammam in his campaign to unseat Blatter as the head of FIFA. The evidence was submitted to the governing body by American executive committee member Chuck Blazer.
"We are satisfied that there is a case to be answered," Petrus Damaseb, deputy chairman of the ethics committee, said at a news conference.
Bin Hammam, who denied any wrongdoing, had asked the ethics panel to investigate Blatter on grounds that he knew of alleged bribe attempts and did nothing about it. But the FIFA panel said there was no evidence to take action against Blatter, who has been office since 1998.
FIFA's reputation has been battered by repeated allegations of vote-buying and financial wrongdoing.The organization stressed that despite the turmoil the election will proceed Wednesday during the meeting of its 208 national members.
Franz Beckenbauer, who retires as a member of FIFA's executive committee next week, on Sunday described the crisis as a "disaster for football."
"I hope when June 1 comes and the election will be over, then all the discussion about corruption is finished and FIFA can go back to normal," Beckenbauer told the BBC. "I don't know what's going on in the next days, but in general it's my opinion it's very, very bad."
Warner, presidenty of the regional soccer body representing North and Central America and the Caribbean, had warned that a "football tsunami" would be unleashed after the findings of the FIFA panel were released.
The crisis was sparked by Blazer, whose evidence file implicated his executive committee colleagues. Blazer, Warner's longtime No. 2 at CONCACAF, spent more than an hour at FIFA headquarters before leaving Sunday.
Bin Hammam, who decided to run for president after helping Qatar secure the 2022 World Cup, spoke of "baseless allegations" made against him.
"Recent events have left me hurt and disappointed on a professional and personal level," bin Hammam wrote on his personal website. "It saddens me that standing up for the causes that I believed in has come at a great price the degradation of FIFA's reputation. This is not what I had in mind for FIFA and this is unacceptable.
"I cannot allow the name that I loved to be dragged more and more in the mud because of competition between two individuals. The game itself and the people who love it around the world must come first. It is for this reason that I announce my withdrawal from the presidential election."
Bin Hammam and Warner, a 28-year FIFA executive, are accused of arranging bribes for up to 25 presidential voters from the Caribbean Football Union.
Bin Hammam has acknowledged paying for travel, accommodations and conference costs, but denies vote-buying. Instead, he implicated Blatter's camp in a plot to remove him from the election contest, and fought back by bringing the FIFA president into the ethics case.
According to bin Hammam's complaint, Blatter broke FIFA "duty of disclosure" rules because he was apparently aware through Warner that payments had been arranged and "had no issue."
The evidence file was compiled by John Collins, a former U.S. federal prosecutor and now a member of FIFA's legal committee.
Blatter succeeded Brazil's Joao Havelange, defeating then UEFA President Lennart Johansson in 19998. Blatter acknowledges that claims of vote-buying surrounded his first election but has always denied involvement.
He faced a challenge in 2002 from Issa Hayatou, Africa's soccer president. Blatter was re-elected unopposed for a third successive term in 2007.