Asian football body urged to hold independent corruption probe

Asian football body urged to hold independent corruption probe
This file picture taken on November 11, 2010 shows Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Secretary General Alex Soosay addressing the public during the AFC Asian Cup Qatar 2011 mascot launch in Doha.

SINGAPORE - Asia's football body was urged to order a full and independent investigation into lingering corruption fears on Thursday after its general secretary was suspended over an alleged cover-up.

Former Asian Football Confederation (AFC) general secretary Peter Velappan told AFP he was "shocked" by revelations about his friend and successor, Alex Soosay.

He said the Kuala Lumpur-based body needed a thorough investigation by independent experts following various allegations of cover-ups, embezzlement and theft.

"There should be an independent professional investigation into this... it's in the interests of everybody to do that," Velappan said by telephone from the Malaysian capital.

"I personally feel very concerned with this situation and I think the AFC is obliged to really order an independent investigation and take all those to task if they have done anything wrong," he added.

Soosay was suspended on Wednesday pending an internal AFC probe after allegations surfaced last month that he tried to hide documents from financial investigators in 2012.

The allegations came from the AFC's financial director, who gave videotaped testimony in July 2012 that Soosay asked him to "tamper (with) or hide" potentially incriminating documents.

At the time, the AFC was being investigated for financial wrongdoing under its disgraced former president Mohamed bin Hammam, who is banned from football worldwide.

The results of the audit by PricewaterhouseCoopers were never published but leaked details raised concerns over payments worth millions of dollars.

Days after the taped interview, the AFC filed a report with police alleging the theft of financial documents from its headquarters in Kuala Lumpur.

And according to the Malay Mail, which published contents of the taped interview last month, Soosay later claimed in a police report that Hammam had embezzled nearly US$10 million.

'He has to explain'

While there is no evidence that Soosay committed any crime, he is believed to have been fearful about being blamed for authorising payments ordered by bin Hammam.

Velappan said it was time for the AFC, now led by Bahrain's Shaikh Salman bin Ebrahim al Khalifa, to fully investigate the situation and not simply use Soosay as a "scapegoat".

"I hope the AFC will conduct a really good, professional investigation into all this and if there's anything (against) any of these top officials that appropriate action will be taken," he said.

"We have got to protect integrity, we have got to protect good governance."

However, he said Soosay, the "humble and simple" former coach and Malaysia midfielder who became general secretary in 2009, had some explaining to do.

"He has to explain... if you're not guilty you don't go to a guy (the AFC financial director) and tell him all these things," Velappan said.

Soosay became general secretary in 2009, two years before Qatari businessman bin Hammam's nine-year stint as president collapsed under claims of bribery and financial misconduct.

Bin Hammam was accused of handing out bribes for votes while campaigning for the FIFA presidency in 2011, as well as during his native Qatar's successful bid to host the 2022 World Cup.

Asia's football authority holds significant power in the sport because of the voting power it wields at world body FIFA, where its 46 members make it the second biggest region.

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