Ganesh Thapa was the strong man of football in Nepal for two decades. On October 24, 2013, he was re-elected as the president of the All Nepal Football Association (ANFA) for a further four-year tenure, a position he had held since 1995. In the latter part of his 20 years as president, he faced several challenges to his position by colleagues dissatisfied with his performance, but his strong grip on all levels of the organization down to district level, aided by a core of loyal officials in key positions, enabled him to thwart all efforts to unseat him.
The Mohammed Bin Hammam link
Thapa was an Executive Committee Member of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) from 1995 to 2010 when he became a vice president of the organization. He developed a close friendship with the most powerful man in Asian football, the Qatar-born Mohammed Bin Hammam, who became the president of AFC on August 1, 2002. AFC is a 47-member organization covering a swathe of the globe from Syria to Australia. Bin Hammam was an influential figure in the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) through being a member of its powerful 24-man Executive Committee (EXCO, now called the FIFA Council) since 1996. He is a business magnate who made his fortune in the construction industry and property.
(See cover photo. Ganesh Thapa with Mohammed Bin Hammam at the opening of the Chyasal Technical Center in Kathmandu on May 14, 2005. Photo by nepalsportsphoto.com. Note: Although links to many references are given below, the extracts selected are intended to make the article understandable without referring to them.)
On May 29, 2011, FIFA suspended Mohammed Bin Hammam from all positions in world football, news which should have given Ganesh Thapa some cause for concern. Bin Hammam’s fall from power started when, late in the electoral process, on March 18, 2011, he declared his intention to stand against Sepp Blatter as FIFA president. The sequence of events which then led to him being banned for life is complex but the summary below is taken from an unimpeachable source: the media release of July 19, 2012 giving the decision, by a majority of 2 to 1, of the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) to uphold Bin Hammam’s appeal against the life suspension imposed by FIFA:
“During his campaign for the FIFA presidential election, Mr. Bin Hammam attended a meeting of the Caribbean Football Union (‘CFU’) in Trinidad and Tobago on 10 and 11 May 2011. On 10 May 2011, he made a speech about his candidacy. Following the speech and Mr. Bin Hammam’s departure from the conference room, Mr. Jack Warner, who was at the time a member of the FIFA Executive Committee, announced that there were “gifts” for representatives of the attending associations. In the afternoon of 10 May 2011, the CFU General Secretary collected from Mr. Warner’s office a locked suitcase, containing a number of unmarked envelopes, each containing USD 40,000, which were distributed to the CFU delegates on the same day.
On 11 May 2011, after Mr. Bin Hammam had already left Trinidad and Tobago, Mr. Warner called an unexpected meeting during which he declared that Mr. Bin Hammam had provided money to the CFU in lieu of traditional ‘gifts’. On 15 May 2011, Mr. Chuck Blazer, also a member of the FIFA Executive Committee, hired an attorney to investigate these events, who later issued a report concluding that Mr. Bin Hammam had offered bribes in order to buy votes. On 29 May 2011, the FIFA Ethics Committee announced its decision to provisionally suspend Mr. Bin Hammam from all football-related activities. Beforehand, Mr. Bin Hammam had withdrawn his candidacy for the FIFA Presidency. On 18 August 2011, the FIFA Ethics Committee informed Mr. Bin Hammam that he was banned for life further to several violations of the FIFA Code of Ethics. By decision of 15 September 2011, the FIFA Appeal Committee confirmed the sanction.
On 9 November 2011, Mr. Bin Hammam appealed the decision to the CAS.”
In its full judgement giving the reasons for upholding Bin Hammam’s appeal, the CAS, at Paragraph 204, stated,
“The Panel wishes to make clear that this conclusion should not be taken to diminish the significance of its finding that it is more likely than not that Mr. Bin Hammam was the source of the monies that were brought into Trinidad and Tobago and eventually distributed at the meeting by Mr. Warner. . . . The Panel therefore wishes to make clear that in applying the law, as it is required to do under the CAS Code, it is not making any sort of affirmative finding of innocence in relation to Mr. Bin Hammam. The Panel is doing no more than concluding that the evidence is insufficient in that it does not permit the majority of the Panel to reach the standard of comfortable satisfaction in relation to the matters on which the Appellant was charged. It is a situation of ‘case not proven’, coupled with concern on the part of the Panel that the FIFA investigation was not complete or comprehensive enough to fill the gaps in the record.”
Immediately after the CAS decision was made public, Bin Hammam announced his resignation from all football activities but, five months later, on Dec 17, 2012, FIFA handed him a second life ban for “repeated violations of Article 19 (Conflict of Interest) of the FIFA Code of Ethics, edition 2012, during his terms as AFC President and as member of the FIFA Executive Committee in the years 2008 to 2011.”
The audit of AFC’s accounts
On July 13, 2012, the accountancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) completed an audit on AFC’s finances which had clearly been initiated shortly after Bin Hammam’s suspension. Its details were quickly leaked to The Associated Press (AP) and seven days later its account of what the audit revealed was widely reported. The article from Hello Khabar headed, “ANFA president Ganesh Thapa’s son received $100,000 from AFC’s corruption accused prez” gives details of what AP reported. The first two paragraphs state:
“Gaurav Thapa, the son of All Nepal Football Federation (ANFA) President Ganesh Thapa received $100,000 (Rs 88 lakhs) from the suspended President of Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Mohamed bin Hammam as the latter used the AFC bank accounts to enrich himself, pay for the lavish expenses of his family and hand out tens of thousands of dollars in cash to federation presidents and their relatives.
The cash handed out to federation presidents and their relatives went to their personal bank accounts and none of it was for football related expenses, according to the Associated Press.
In one of the biggest corruption cases to rock the football world, Hammam, the 63-year-old Qatari who was once a candidate to oust FIFA President Sepp Blatter as the sport’s worldwide leader, is accused of using the AFC bank accounts to hand out hundreds of thousands of dollars to friends and relatives, according to an audit obtained by the AP.”
We know that the detail in this AP report is accurate because the full PWC report was subsequently made available online.
Before examining parts of it, it is worth recording Ganesh Thapa’s reported reaction:
“The head of the Nepal’s football federation said Sunday his son had taken a loan of $100,000 from Mohamed bin Hammam but denied the money came from an Asian Football Confederation bank account.
Ganesh Thapa, the president of All Nepal Football Association, told The Associated Press his son had taken a personal loan from suspended AFC chief bin Hammam in 2009 and has already paid it back.
‘It was a personal loan for a personal reason from a personal friend and it has nothing to do with football or AFC,’ Thapa said Sunday, arguing it should not be scrutinized by football officials.
The son, Gaurav Thapa, has been working with AFC since 2007 and has been sent to Newcastle, England, on Olympic duty working as assistant manager of a football venue.”
This explanation needs careful scrutinizing against the detail given in the full PWC report. Even a cursory scan through the audit report indicates that Mohammed Bin Hammam was not in the loans business. There are many examples given of money and gifts being distributed to numerous individuals, AFC member organizations, unnamed third parties, and to Bin Hammam himself and family members; and the distinction between AFC funds and his personal money was blurred in the extreme. The following extracts from the audit make this last point clear:
Para 18. From an analysis of activity in the Sundry Debtors account 1-3230, it appears that Mr. Hammam routinely instructed a significant number of purportedly personal receipts and payments to and from the AFC’s bank accounts. These receipts and payments, along with his AFC entitlements, have been processed through the AFC’s general ledger to the effect that at any point in time, the AFC was either in debt or credit to its President.
Para 22. A number of payments of significant value were also made on Mr. Hammam’s behalf from AFC bank accounts, notably:
a. Payments of significant value to Jack Warner (CONCACAF) and an individual named Ellias Zaccour. These individuals also received benefits in kind from the AFC.
b. Payments to, or to the benefit of, a number of AFC Member Associations and associated individuals.
c. Payments to, or to the benefit of, other third party individuals, including FIFA, EXCO and other AFC Standing committee members, possibly lobbyists, media and AFC staff and contractors.
d. Payments which appeared to be for the personal benefit of Mr. Hammam and his family including transfers to his personal or company bank accounts, cash advances and other expenditure such as significant flight and hotel expenditure, chartered flights and the purchase of assets.
The detail of the amount of money involved in each gift or transfer is given in the audit report but some examples include: transfers to Mr. Hammam’s personal and company accounts ($11.6 million); to the benefit of Mr. Hammam and his family ($1.2 million, split between $492,660 for his family and $220,937 for Mr. Hammam personally, including $12,395 to Lord’s Tailor for suits); and payments to third parties ($2.0 million, including $1,983 for 13 shirts from Lord’s Tailor for Sepp Blatter and $4,366 for the purchase of air tickets for Ganesh Thapa’s wife and son).
On the “President’s Personal Bank Accounts,” the audit report states:
Para 23. In the course of our work, we located a file maintained at the AFC titled “President’s Personal Account” which contains documents relating to two personal bank accounts in Mr. Hammam’s name.
Para 24. Until April 2011, all monies in these personal accounts originated from AFC bank accounts, comprising purportedly personal transfers by Mr. Hammam recorded in the sundry debtors account referred to above in the AFC’s general ledger.
This point is forcefully expressed again in Paragraph 223, which states, “Although apparently for personal transaction, this file appears to have been maintained at the AFC and evidences transfers of cash to and from AFC bank accounts” and, in Paragraph 232, “In summary . . . all monies in these accounts originated from the AFC.”
Para 26. Five payments totalling $210,000 were made directly to three individuals associated with Member Associations in the period July 2009 to October 2010 as follows: $100,000 to Gaurav Thapa (Nepal), $50,000 to Franciso Kalbuadi Lay (Timor Leste), and $60,000 to Jose Mari C. Martinez (Philippines). Payments were also made directly to five Member Associations from these accounts.
The above screenshot gives the detail of the payments made to Gaurav Thapa from the “President’s personal bank accounts.” No payment description is given for the first $50,000 but the second is clearly described as “gift exp.”
The descriptions given above for the other two payments listed to Mr. Lay from Timor-Leste and Mr. Martinez from the Philippines, again from the “President’s personal bank accounts,” make it clear that they are not loans to be repaid.
This screenshot gives the detail of the $430,000 paid directly to four member associations, again from the “President’s personal bank accounts.”
There are numerous other extracts that could be given to highlight the fact that the money in the personal accounts came from AFC accounts and, to quote from Paragraph 133, “Mr. Hammam appears to have routinely used the AFC’s company bank accounts to facilitate personal transactions as if they were his personal bank accounts.” Among all the examples given of money and gifts handed out, there are no indications that “loans” were ever involved.
In view of later revelations, it is worth highlighting these two screenshots which show that Kemco Group was owned by Bin Hammam and how its accounts fitted into the AFC picture.
Here is a summation of how the system worked:
“When Bin Hammam wanted to slip someone in world football a sweetener, he had a system. Often it was merely a matter of instructing Gan [AFC finance secretary] to wire the money from his sundry account at the AFC under some flimsy football-related pretext, but there were times when a less traceable route was prudent. Thankfully over in Doha his accounts staff at Kemco operated a network of ten funds which provided the perfect cover for clandestine transactions. The accounts were generally marked for commercial mundanities such as ‘real estate’, ‘transport’, ‘retention’ and ‘overheads’. Bin Hammam’s personal bank account, and another in the name of his adult daughter, Aisha, were also operated by the Kemco staff to make payments to football bosses.” (p 71–2 of The Ugly Game: The Great Qatari Plot to Buy the World Cup, by Heidi Blake and Jonathan Calvert)
Given the lack of follow-up in the Kathmandu media, Ganesh Thapa probably had good reason to believe that he had weathered with some ease the publicity generated by the payments to his son, but much darker and threatening clouds were gathering. We now know, thanks to a FIFA media release published in October 2014, that ANFA was “selected by FIFA to undergo a KPMG Central programme audit for the year 2012 which proved unsatisfactory and unappropriated cash movements were identified. As a consequence, a Forensic Audit (Project “Play”) has been initiated by FIFA for the years 2011/2012. Findings of this audit were transmitted to the Ethics Committee secretariat.” (See below for reference.) As FIFA was considering follow-up action, a series of articles in The Sunday Times, published on three successive Sundays in June 2014, generated a storm of publicity across the world of football. They disclosed payments made to Ganesh Thapa from Mohammed Bin Hammam, and revealed the close links between the two men.
The Sunday Times revelations
Note: (1) The two Sunday Times journalists responsible for all the articles, Heidi Blake and Jonathon Calvert, subsequently wrote a book, quoted from above, which repeated and elaborated on what was in the original articles: The Ugly Game: The Qatari Plot to Buy the World Cup. Though the articles are behind a paywall, the links given will show the headlines and the first few paragraphs of each article.
(2) For context, the FIFA decision to award Qatar the 2022 World Cup was announced on December 2, 2010.
June 1, 2014
In the issue of June 1, 2014, under a heading “Plot to buy the World Cup,” the paper claimed:
“The secret payments that helped Qatar to win the World Cup bid are revealed for the first time this weekend in a bombshell cache of millions of documents leaked to The Sunday Times.
The files expose how Qatar’s astonishing victory in the race to secure the right to host the 2022 tournament was sealed by a covert campaign by Mohamed bin Hammam, the country’s top football official.
The Qatari vice-president of Fifa, the governing body of world football, used secret slush funds to make dozens of payments totalling more than $5m to senior football officials to create a groundswell of support for Qatar’s plan to take world football by storm.”
A separate article on the same day, headed “Slush funds and hospitality: the masterminding of a dirty game,” claimed that Bin Hammam “used 10 slush funds controlled by his private company and cash handouts to make dozens of payments of up to $200,000 into accounts controlled by the presidents of 30 African football associations who held sway over how the continent’s four executive committee (Exco) members would vote.”
While acknowledging that Qatar maintains that Bin Hammam played no part in securing its winning bid for the 2022 World Cup, The Sunday Times claimed that it had “a mountain of proof” to support its claims, namely:
“The Fifa files contain hundreds of millions of secret documents leaked from the heart of world football by a senior figure inside the sport’s governing body who decided to blow the whistle.
They include emails, faxes, phone records, flight logs, documents and accounts that chart the activities of Mohamed bin Hammam, the Qatari Fifa vice-president, before and after his country’s 2022 World Cup bid.
The documents originate from several organisations including Bin Hammam’s private office in Doha, his private construction company Kemco, Fifa itself, the Asian Football Confederation, the Qatar FA and the offices of the Qatar 2022 bid team.”
June 8, 2014
On June 8, a further series of articles were published. One headed “Secret deals turn heat on World Cup” and subheaded, “Qatari fixer’s $1.7m for key Asian votes” claimed that the “cache of hundreds of millions of documents leaked from the heart of world football today reveals that Bin Hammam shored up his own seat on Exco by using secret slush funds to make payments totalling $1.7m to football officials across Asia.” It went on to claim, “The $1.7m he paid from the funds, controlled by his private company Kemco, often into the bank accounts of officials whose support he was seeking across Asia.
The glut of Asian payments came as Bin Hammam was campaigning for both the Qatar World Cup bid and for his own re-election to the post of president of the Asian Football Confederation.”
Another article headed “Pact with enemy sealed Bin Hammam victory,” stated, “Our second tranche of Fifa files show that masterful diplomacy, extravagant largesse and Machiavellian strategy played a crucial part in securing Asia’s votes. Bank transfer slips and emails also reveal that Bin Hammam made payments totaling $1.7m to football bosses across Asia from the same secret slush funds he used in Africa.”
This article alleges that to help defeat a challenge to his appointment as president of AFC, Bin Hammam “used the services of Manilal Fernando, a rotund, Sri Lankan hustler and long-standing ally, who was employed by Fifa as its South Asian regional development officer. . . . The documents show that Fernando also received a payment of $23,000 from Bin Hammam’s slush fund as reimbursement for a cash gift he said he had given to Alberto Colaco, the general secretary of the Indian football association—after winning a guarantee of his support.”
The article continued:
“With his presidency secure, Bin Hammam had a new project to attend to: Qatar’s bid for the 2022 World Cup.
Strategy documents show that as early as June 2008, the Qatari had concluded that buying up support in Asia and Africa was crucial to winning the right to host a World Cup.
The files show that in 2009 he made a string of unexplained payments from accounts held by his private company, Kemco, to football bosses across Asia. Among them was Mari Martinez, president of the Philippines football association. An unknown sum was paid into his wife’s bank account, and he went on to receive $12,500 in his own.”
Bin Hammam’s “loyal electoral fixer,” Fernando, demanded his pay-off and Ganesh Thapa, “another loyal ally,” was also rewarded. From the same article:
“[T]he Sri Lankan sought large rewards for the countries he had locked down.
Fernando had an official role with the Goal Programme, the Fifa fund for football development in poor countries chaired by Bin Hammam. He sent Bin Hammam a list of Goal Programme payments of $400,000 each to countries in his group—Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Sri Lanka, asking the Qatari to use his position to obtain approval from the Goal Bureau.
Fernando was also keen that another source of football development money was generously lavished on key voters, writing to Bin Hammam in August to recommend loosening the purse strings of the AFC’s Aid 27 budget. ‘Until elections are over we must see that all funds due from Aid  to countries are paid without making it difficult for them with too many questions asked,’ he suggested.
Bin Hammam continued to lavish football bosses with direct payments from the network of slush funds operated by Kemco. Asatulloev Zarifjon, president of the Tajikistan football federation, received $50,000 in June 2010. The next month, Fernando’s ally, Nidal Hadid of the Jordan FA, received $50,000 into his personal bank account from the account of Bin Hammam’s daughter, Aisha.
Another loyal ally of Fernando was handsomely rewarded for backing Bin Hammam. Ganesh Thapa, president of the Nepalese FA, was paid a total of £115,000 from two separate Kemco accounts in March and August 2010. He said last week that the money was paid as part of a business arrangement he had with Kemco.”
(Note: With Bin Hammam’s help, Manilal Fernando was elected as a FIFA executive committee member in January 2011 following the 24th Asian Football Confederation Congress in Doha. On October 9, 2013, FIFA imposed a lifetime ban on him based on four breaches of the FIFA code of ethics, including, “offering and accepting gifts and other benefits” and “bribery and corruption.”
June 15, 2014
Ganesh Thapa featured again in an article published by The Sunday Times on June 15, 2014, headed “Mr. Fixer’s bid for Fifa’s crown.” The opening paragraphs allege that after the success of the winning World Cup bid on December 2, 2010, Qatar set out to topple Sepp Blatter from the position as president of FIFA and replace him with Mohamed Bin Hammam. On March 10, 2011, just 10 weeks before the ballot, in which Sepp Blatter was expecting to be re-elected as president to extend his 13-year reign by another four years, Bin Hammam announced his candidacy for the post. The Sunday Times states that “this surprise announcement started a frenzied ballot-buying campaign. The Fifa files lay bare the full story of Bin Hammam’s corrupt operation to propel himself to the top of Fifa. . . . Bin Hammam’s methods were familiar—he hosted a junket in Doha, flew football chiefs in business class to secret summits at five-star hotels, dished out cash and used the same slush funds that had shored up support for Qatar’s World Cup bid.”
The article further states:
“Southeast Asia was a key constituency for Bin Hammam, as he was president of the Asian Football Confederation, and the documents reveal he was typically generous with the region’s football leaders.
Account ledgers show he had already withdrawn $20,000 as ‘cash advance for Al Musabbir Sadi’, president of the Bangladesh Football Federation, in March and a further $40,000 in cash for unspecified purposes the same day.
Emails and bank records show that those who were willing to pledge their support were rewarded handsomely.
On April 1, Bin Hammam received an email in which Viphet Sihachakr, president of the Lao Football Federation, provided his personal bank details with the promise: ‘Any support from me please call any time Brother.’
Sihachakr had $100,000 paid into his personal bank account. (Note: On November 16, 2014 he was banned by FIFA for two years from all football related activity.)
Another old acolyte of Bin Hammam, the Nepalese FA president, Ganesh Thapa, also secured a handsome cash injection through Qatari contacts.
A total of $115,000 had been paid into his personal bank accounts in 2010 from Bin Hammam’s slush funds in the run-up to the World Cup vote.
Now in the days before Bin Hammam announced his presidential campaign, Thapa set up a meeting with Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa bin Ahmed Al Thani, president of the Qatar Football Association and a member of the ruling family. On March 8, Thapa emailed Bin Hammam’s assistant to report back on the meeting.
‘He agreed with my proposal for paying US$2,00,000 [sic] … for 4 years. On this regard he had told me to send you a confidential letter for releasing our 1st year’s payment which amounts US$ 2,00,000,’ Thapa reported.
The money, he said, was for Nepal’s national league, the “total estimated budget” for which was $800,000, and Qatar had agreed to pick up the whole bill. Thapa followed up with another email on March 12 providing the bank details of the Nepalese FA.
Thapa said last week that the total amount paid had been $200,000 not $800,000. It had been ‘financial support’ for a developing country and had ‘no connection whatsoever with the voting process for Mohamed bin Hammam’.
In their book, Blake and Calvert give a further mention of Ganesh Thapa in the above context. It concerns a letter written by one of Bin Hammam’s fixers, Manila Fernando, of Sri Lanka, to Dr Chung Mong-joon, the president of the Korea Football Association who also happened to be the major shareholder in Hyundai:
“The Sri Lankan wrote to Chung on 9 March asking him whether he would support Bin Hammam and suggesting a private chat to reassess his own future in football. He also asked whether Chung intended to continue ‘the development programme and assistance you promissed [sic] for persons in my region’ and whether it would be possible to help Bin Hammam’s ally Ganesh Thapa ‘secure a percentage from the Hyundai Car Agency in Nepal’. History does not relate Chung’s reply” (p 371).
Mounting pressure on Ganesh Thapa from within Nepal
ANFA vice president calls for Ganesh Thapa to be ousted
The Sunday Times revelations were widely reported internationally and in Nepal. Despite his power and influence, Ganesh Thapa soon began to feel the heat. Leading the campaign for action to be taken against him was the ANFA vice president, Karma Tsering Sherpa. On June 12, 2014, an article in The Kathmandu Post stated:
“As Sepp Blatter faces calls at the general convention in Brazil to step down as Fifa boss over corruption surrounding the Qatar’s successful but controversial World Cup bid, voices against Thapa’s excesses in Nepal are picking up a decibel.
ANFA Vice-president Karma Chhiring Sherpa calls for Thapa’s immediate ouster to clean up the mess in Nepali football. The fresh scandal comes at a time when Sherpa and a few other senior Anfa office bearers are at loggerheads over the dictatorship and the autocratic rule of Thapa.
‘If such misdeeds are not immediately stopped, the Nepali football will continue to suffer and fall further behind,’ said Sherpa.”
Ganesh Thapa nominated for the Constituent Assembly
On August 29, 2014, as controversy mounted, the cabinet nominated Ganesh Thapa as a Constituent Assembly member to take one of the 26 seats reserved for political parties. He took the single seat that was reserved for Rastriya Prajatantra Party-Nepal (RPP-N), whose chairman, and dominating personality, is Kamal Thapa, a former deputy prime minister and foreign minister. Ganesh Thapa is Kamal Thapa’s younger brother. (Note: After a recent amalgamation, the RRP-N is now the Rastriya Prajatantra Party. Kamal Thapa is the executive chairman of the new party.)
Public Accounts Committee calls for suspension of Ganesh Thapa
On September 28, 2014, the PAC called for the suspension of Ganesh Thapa and other ANFA officers for an initial period of two months. An AP report stated:
“Nepal’s powerful parliamentary committee accused the long-time chief of the national football association of embezzling millions and ordered government agencies to investigate, file a case in court, and suspend him.
Ramhari Khatiwada of parliament’s public accounts committee [PAC] said on Tuesday they have ordered the government to immediately begin the investigation and suspend Ganesh Thapa as president of the All Nepal Football Association.
Thapa has been accused by the committee of embezzling 582 million rupees (about US$6 million or Dh22m) during his 19-year tenure in the office.
‘There are no proper records or audit reports of where much of the funds received from Fifa or AFC for development of football in Nepal have gone. We believe that all these funds have been misused by Ganesh Thapa and people in the association close to him,’ Khatiwada said.
The committee has ordered the government’s sports ministry to suspend Thapa, and the Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority [CIAA] to investigate him, Khatiwada said.”
On the following day, September 29, 2014, Ganesh Thapa appeared at a press conference at ANFA headquarters to reject all PAC complaints against him. The report quotes him as saying, “We have proper evidences with us. We are ready to go anywhere and we are confident that the issue will be sorted out soon. He added that ANFA was a transparent association and nobody has done anything wrong in the governing body.” He made no reference to accepting the suspension.
On October 13, 2014, with still no action having been taken against him, the PAC again “directed the government” to suspend Thapa and three other named ANFA office bearers, including General Secretary Dhirendra Pradhan and Treasurer Birat Jung Shahi.
ANFA vice presidents call on FIFA to investigate Ganesh Thapa
Ganesh Thapa continued to defy all calls for his suspension but events were now moving rapidly against him. On October 18, 2014, Reuters published a well-sourced report with the dramatic heading, “Exclusive: Nepal FA chiefs ask FIFA to investigate own president”:
“Senior officials at Nepal’s football association (ANFA) have asked FIFA’s ethics chief Michael Garcia to launch an investigation into their own president Ganesh Thapa.
In the e-mailed letter dated Oct. 15, addressed to Garcia and also sent to FIFA General Secretary Jerome Valcke and the AFC, two ANFA vice presidents ask the investigator to look into Thapa and how funds to Nepal from FIFA and the AFC were used.
‘We write to you to request that you open an immediate investigation into potential breaches of the FIFA Code of Ethics and All Nepal Football Association (ANFA) Statutes by ANFA President Ganesh Thapa and Vice President Lalit Krishna Shreshtha,’ it said.
‘With the ANFA mired in unresolved allegations of impropriety and scandal, we respectfully request that an investigation be immediately launched by the FIFA Ethics Committee Investigatory Chamber to resolve these many concerns and questions.’
‘We have witnessed conduct that causes us concern, and based on our observations, and allegations of impropriety that have appeared in the media, we have reason to believe that Mr. Thapa and Shrestha may have violated the FIFA Code of Ethics and the ANFA Statutes.’
The e-mail is signed by ANFA vice presidents Karma Tsering Sherpa and Bijay Narayan Manandhar.
Thapa said he would cooperate with any investigation, but insisted there had been no wrongdoing and he was continuing as head of ANFA.
‘Of course I continue as ANFA head, I am the head of the football association here. From my side I can tell you, no allegation has been made from ANFA. This is only propaganda.’”
The secret FIFA investigation of ANFA in 2012
On October 20, 2014, Reuters published another well-sourced article which stated:
“Nepal’s football association (ANFA) is implementing ‘corrective measures’ amid allegations from its own senior officials about embezzlement of funds, soccer’s governing body FIFA said on Monday.
FIFA said the Nepalese FA had been the subject of an ‘unsatisfactory’ external audit in 2012, when ‘unappropriated cash movements’ were identified, and was also targeted by an ethics committee investigation in 2013.
In a statement sent to Reuters on Monday, FIFA said it was ‘aware of the matter and exchanged correspondence in this regard with ANFA.’
ANFA had been examined by international auditors KPMG, working in partnership with soccer’s governing body two years ago, FIFA said.
‘ANFA was selected by FIFA to undergo a KPMG Central programme audit for the year 2012 which proved unsatisfactory and unappropriated cash movements were identified,’ it said.
‘As a consequence, a Forensic Audit (Project “Play”) has been initiated by FIFA for the years 2011/2012. Findings of this audit were transmitted to the Ethics Committee (secretariat).’
FIFA said that ‘considering these findings, Nepal was also targeted the following year by an ethics committee investigation.’
‘Known as “project Orange”, the investigation was concerned with “Tsunami funds” and the “Goal” (development) projects managed by the former development officer Manilal Fernando between 2005 and 2012 in the south Asia region,’ FIFA said.”
Ganesh Thapa finally accepts suspension
On the same day that FIFA released this information, The Kathmandu Post carried an article stating that Thapa had finally agreed to accept the suspension that PAC had ordered on September 20, 2014:
“Adhering to the Public Accounts Committee’s (PAC) directive, Ganesh Thapa on Monday [October 20, 2014] stepped down as the president of All Nepal Football Association (Anfa), paving the way for an investigation into the alleged misappropriation of funds in the football governing body.
Along with Thapa, Anfa Treasurer Birat Jung Shahi has also stepped aside from the office.
The PAC on September 28 directed the Ministry of Youth and Sports to suspend the Anfa office bearers for two months over alleged embezzlement of funds. Thapa, along with General Secretary Dhirendra Pradhan, Treasurer Birat Jung Shahi and an Anfa Academy building construction supervisor, faces the charge of misappropriating Rs 580 million of association’s funds.
‘I decided to step aside for the sake of Nepali football. Fifa would have certainly suspended Nepal from all footballing activities if I didn’t take the step,’ Thapa said at a press meet on Monday.”
ANFA vice presidents denied knowledge of FIFA audit
On October 24, 2014, another Reuters article headed “Nepal officials deny knowledge of FIFA-ordered audits,” made it clear that Ganesh Thapa kept the FIFA-initiated investigation to a tight circle within ANFA. The article states:
“Senior officials at the All Nepal Football Association (ANFA) say they have no knowledge of a string of past financial audits carried out by world soccer’s governing body FIFA into potential irregularities at ANFA.
ANFA Vice Presidents Karma Tsering Sherpa and Bijay Narayan Manandhar have asked for details regarding the audits in a letter dated Oct. 22 to FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valcke and Ethics chief Michael Garcia, seen by Reuters.
‘As Vice Presidents and Executive Committee members of ANFA . . . we are surprised and deeply concerned to learn of these allegations,’ the ANFA Vice Presidents said in the letter to Valcke and Garcia.
‘If these allegations are true, they are not only new information to us but also contradicted what we were led to believe by ANFA President Ganesh Thapa,’ they said.
‘As leaders of the ANFA, the very least we deserve is to know of any alleged impropriety or wrongdoing that may have occurred within our football association.’
FIFA, contacted by Reuters, said it had received the letter from the Nepalese officials.
‘FIFA has received a letter sent by two ANFA Vice-Presidents. For the time being we have no further comments to make,’ an official told Reuters.
Calls from within RPP-N to recall Ganesh Thapa from the Constituent Assembly
On November 24, 2014, Setopati carried a report which stated that “an assembly of a dissatisfaction faction of Rastriya Prajatantra Party-Nepal (RPP-N) led by Padma Sundar Lawati has demanded that the party recall Ganesh Thapa from the post of Constituent Assembly (CA) member. The assembly also demanded to replace Thapa by a capable personality. The assembly, which the group claims was attended by 1000 party cadres from around the country, has given an ultimatum of 21 days to call back Thapa from the post of CA.”
Nothing more was heard of this protest. Presumably Kamal Thapa ignored it. Of note, in passing, is the fact that the Rayamajhi Commission, formed to probe the suppression of Jana Andolan II, recommended the prosecution of Kamal Thapa, the then Home Minister, on corruption charges.
CIAA put Ganesh Thapa case “on hold”
On February 18, 2015, despite all the new information released by FIFA and The Sunday Times, The Kathmandu Post published a short article giving the news that the CIAA, under its now thoroughly discredited chairman, Lokman Singh Karki, had decided to put the case against Ganesh Thapa “on hold.” Given very recent publicity about the CIAA, these sections of the article are worth quoting in full:
“The Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) on Wednesday put on hold the corruption case concerning the All Nepal Football Association (Anfa) President Ganesh Thapa after failing to gather enough evidences.
Thapa along with Anfa General Secretary Dhirendra Pradhan and Treasurer Birat Jung Shahi faced the charges of misappropriation of fund amounting to Rs 580 million. A CIAA board meeting on Wednesday dismissed Thapa’s case which was recommendation by Parliamentary Account Committee (PAC) to investigate with higher priority. ‘The Commission has decided to put his [Thapa] case on hold for now,’ said CIAA Spokesperson Begendra Raj Poudel without elaborating in details.
The PAC has expressed serious concern over anti-graft body’s failure to deal the corruption cases involving high-profile people. Parliamentarians say the CIAA decision has raised a serious ethical question whether the anti-graft body is truly committed to eliminate corruption. ‘The CIAA has been protecting its cronies and dragging its adversaries to the court,’ said Ramhari Khatiwada, one of the PAC member.
Khatiwada said PAC is planning to summon anti-graft chief and officials before the parliamentary committee to grill over their decision to acquit high profile individuals involved in corruption. ‘It’s not only our conclusion that corruption is rampant in Anfa. The world football governing itself is investigating the matter,’ said Khatiwada.
Thapa said the CIAA decision came as a huge relief to him. ‘I have been repeatedly saying that all the charges against me was brought to taint my image.’”
AFNA vice presidents appeal again to FIFA
On February 20, 2015, shortly after hearing the CIAA judgement, and presumably driven by a sense of despair, ANFA vice presidents Karma Tsering Sherpa and Bijay Narayan Manandhar wrote a letter to FIFA, urging it to launch a full investigation into Ganesh Thapa and his leadership of ANFA. This news was also quickly leaked to AP. Its report stated:
“In a letter to FIFA, ANFA vice presidents said the ruling body now needed to launch a full investigation and not a mere review of claims, listing a number of issues that require closer scrutiny.
‘We would kindly request a full investigation of Mr. Thapa and his leadership of the ANFA by the FIFA Ethics Committee Investigatory Chamber ahead of his return in the upcoming weeks.’
‘The chaos in the administration of ANFA that has persisted for years under the leadership of Mr. Thapa must be brought to an end. We urgently request your kind assistance,’ they added.
The letter was addressed to Robert Torres, a member of the FIFA Ethics Committee’s investigatory chamber, who was in charge of looking into the claims back in November.
Thapa, who has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, did not want to comment when contacted by Reuters on Friday.
‘Right now I don’t want to talk about the issue,’ Thapa said before refusing to say whether he would return to ANFA.
FIFA refused to comment on the letter, the state of its claims review or even if the review led by Torres was completed, instead referring to their four-month old press release.
‘More information will follow in due course,’ a FIFA official said. The official also refused to say whether Thapa was eligible to return to office or not.”
Ganesh Thapa resumes ANFA’s presidency
On June 25, 2015 Nepali media outlets carried the news that Ganesh Thapa was now back as president of ANFA:
“All Nepal Football Association (ANFA) President Ganesh Thapa, who had voluntarily stepped down from his chair last year to comply with the investigation by Public Account Committee (PAC) on corruption allegations against him, joined office from Thursday.
Thapa was welcomed by General Secretary Dhirendra Pradhan, CEO Indra Man Tuladhar and other members of ANFA’s executive committee upon his return to office on Thursday afternoon.
Thapa’s voluntary three-month suspension from all football related activities had ended on June 19, but his return to office was delayed for a few days as the association remained closed for 13 days to mourn the untimely passing away of its acting president Lalit Krishna Shrestha on June 12.
Although Thapa’s first four month period out of presidency ended on March 19, he extended it to further 3 months.”
Ganesh Thapa’s performance as president of ANFA
Ganesh Thapa’s return as president coincided with continued mounting criticism within Nepal and in the international media of his management of ANFA. These highlighted serious failures in its internal administration and in its management of FIFA funds.
One measure of how competently football is run in any country is its position, commensurate to its population, on FIFA’s world rankings.
As can be seen above, in February 1994, Nepal stood at 124. In 2015 it had sunk to 192, three places above Macau with a population of 566,000. Before the recent Solidarity Cup, Nepal’s ranking had recovered a little to 186. After winning the competition, Nepal moved up to 175, but this is still a woefully low ranking given its population and the great enthusiasm for the game within the country. Timor-Leste with a population of 1.1 million is now at 191, Bhutan (population 750,000) at 176, and Brunei (population 400, 000) at 19. Afghanistan, Myanmar, and Malaysia, with similar sized populations to Nepal, are at 151, 159, and 161 respectively. Maldives with a population of 345,000 is at 145.
This should put the recent highly acclaimed victory in the Solidarity Cup, while very welcome, in perspective. The competition replaced the AFC Challenge Cup, last played for in 2014. Six teams were eligible to compete after losing in the first round of the 2018 FIFA World Cup/2019 AFC Asian Cup qualification competition, and three teams were eligible to compete after losing in the play-off round two of the 2019 AFC Asian Cup qualification competition. After Pakistan and Bangladesh withdrew, seven teams were left in the tournament. Laos, with a population of 6.7 million was, at the time of the tournament, on a ranking of 177, but the other five competitors were countries with small populations, on or below the same lowly ranking as Nepal. Self-evidently, Nepal must raise its sights to get back to where it should be.
There are many factors that contribute to a country’s footballing success, but investment in infrastructure is key. Good playing surfaces are vital for the development of technical skills. Investment in high-grade coaching, particularly for the young, is another key factor.
Writing for GoalNepal.com on June 21, 2015, Sakar Prasain highlighted the meager proportion of FIFA’s 2015-grant allocated to infrastructure. Of the $1,050,000 ANFA received from FIFA, it spent $545,000 on men’s competitions, $237,696 on event management, $112,500 on women’s football, $54,000 on youth football, $46,000 on planning and administration, $26,500 on infrastructure, and $28,000 on “other.”
To quote him directly: “In Nepal there is just one proper football pitch. The field at the national stadium in the country isn’t even completely filled up with grass. This sector is one of the biggest issues in Nepal football. Yet ANFA spent just 2% of the money they received on infrastructure. Comparatively, Afghanistan and Maldives, arguably the two best countries in the SAFF region spent $250,000 and $81,000 respectively on this sector.”
Sakar Prasain is also highly critical of the comparatively small sums spent on women’s football and the mere 5 percent spent on youth football. He finishes the article by stating, “These numbers prove exactly why the development of Nepali football is moving at a snail’s pace. They prove that ANFA is in dire need of a new leader and reform. Ganesh Thapa has shown that he is not the right man to fulfill Nepal’s potential in football. After the untimely death of late Vice President Lalit Krishna Shrestha, I feel there is no one within ANFA who has the quality to lead.”
Reuters investigative report
An even more graphic description of maladministration within ANFA, highlighting the way Ganesh Thapa used his absolute powers to make arbitrary decisions on FIFA-allocated grants, is given in an investigative report produced by Reuters on September 7, 2015 under the heading, “Blatter’s corroded legacy on South Asian football fields.” These extended extracts speak volumes and need no elaboration:
“There are no recognizable football fields, no players, and just a rusting goalpost at Pakistan’s Hawksbay training centre, built with a $500,000 FIFA grant on a windswept plot by the Arabian Sea near Karachi, and officially completed two years ago.
In Nepal, goats graze on a rutted playing field near decrepit facilities at the Dharan soccer academy built with FIFA cash in the Himalayan foothills. The sole member of staff, a watchman, says he hasn’t been paid for a year.
A Reuters review of football development projects in these two South Asian countries shows they are littered with half-built and under-used facilities, despite receiving more than $2 million from the sport’s world governing body this year alone.
In recent weeks, Reuters reporters visited seven projects in Pakistan and Nepal that received FIFA money under its ‘Goal’ programme—which funds football fields for youth academies, known as technical centres, and playing surfaces in stadiums. They found that just one had an active full-time training programme. Three had no proper playing fields.
The Dharan technical centre was built in 2002, but was mainly used by drug addicts and then Maoist rebels for the next six years, said Deepak Rai, the academy’s director.
Local clubs occasionally trained there, but it was never professionally turfed, nearby residents say, and when the centre was due to be inaugurated in 2008, local people dug clods of grass from their fields to make the pitch presentable, said Rai.
A plaque at Dharan marks the centre’s inauguration by FIFA’s then South Asia director of development, Manilal Fernando, and Thapa, the ANFA president.
FIFA banned Fernando for life in 2013 after an investigation into bribery and corruption related to a 2009 election within the Asian Football Confederation. Fernando, a Sri Lankan who had been a member of FIFA’s executive committee, was in charge of distributing ‘Goal’ project funds in South Asia.
In interviews with Reuters, Thapa acknowledged that the Dharan centre was not functioning. He blamed uncooperative local officials and the association’s weak finances. ‘We are facing a very big financial problem. We do not have the money to run the centre at the minute,’ he said.
Since 2000, FIFA has given ANFA $6.9 million for football development, including $1,050,000 this year. In 2010, under ‘Goal’, FIFA donated $400,000 ‘for financing of three existing football academies,’ including Dharan.
But that year, ANFA provided just $13,000 for the centre’s costs. In 2009-12, it granted between $13,000 and $21,370 each year for a full-time training programme for 25 youths—the only time the centre has been used for its intended purpose in 13 years, according to Thapa and ANFA audits.
Thapa said ANFA had stopped funding the Dharan centre because of a dispute with local officials over treatment of the boys. ‘I went to visit them, they were crying and saying “we’re not being treated well, we’re not learning anything”,’ he said.
Two graduates of the programme denied this. Mohan Katwal, now 18 and a professional player with local club Morang, described his training at Dharan as good and said he enjoyed his time there. Sushant Chaudhary, now a commerce student, also said the training had been good.
Thapa said he had decided to spend the ‘Goal’ training money on the running costs of an academy in Kathmandu instead. He declined to elaborate, saying this was an ‘internal matter.’
His focus on Kathmandu has limits. A second ‘Goal’ technical centre in the capital, the Chyasal academy, lies semi-abandoned. Rooms are locked, corridors are filled with trash and a large part of its grass field is worn down to dirt. It has never hosted a full-time training programme because, Thapa says, it’s too dangerous. ‘It’s not a suitable location. There are drug users around there,’ he said.
Thapa said ANFA was still deciding how to spend this year’s FIFA grant.
In Dharan, watchman Arjun Budathoki, 45, keeps an eye on the mostly derelict centre. He says he was last paid his ANFA salary in August 2014. For the two tournaments organised locally each year, the centre borrows a lawnmower.
‘For the rest of the year we let the goats do it,’ said Digmar Puri, who owns the animals and was an assistant manager when the centre was running.
The match-fixing bombshell
On October 14, 2015, came the shattering news of the arrest of key international players over allegations of match fixing. Those detained included the captain and vice captain of the national team, Sagar Thapa and Sandip Rai, and the goalkeeper, Ritesh Thapa. Former national players, Bikash Singh Chhetri and Anjan KC were also arrested. Sagar Thapa and Ritesh Thapa had made their debuts for the national team in 2003, Anjan KC in 2005, and Rai and Chettri in 2008.
This Agence France-Presse (AFP) report gives the most detail of many media reports, not least about the active engagement of the Nepal police in collecting evidence against the players concerned:
“The captain of Nepal’s football team was among five current and former internationals who have been arrested over allegations of match-fixing, including during qualifiers for the last World Cup, police said Thursday.
Skipper Sagar Thapa was detained in Kathmandu on Wednesday as part of a coordinated series of arrests in the capital which also saw four current or former team-mates on the national side taken into custody.
Detectives said the arrests came after investigations found significant sums of money had been deposited in the players’ bank accounts from suspected match-fixers based in Southeast Asia.
‘We’ve recorded banking transactions . . . between them and international match-fixers, including in Malaysia and Singapore,’ Sarbendra Khanal, chief of the Metropolitan Police Crime Division in Kathmandu, told AFP.
‘Our investigations will continue and we are discussing what charges they will face.’
Khanal said that several matches played in 2011 as part of Nepal’s unsuccessful bid to qualify for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil were under the scanner, including a match against Jordan that they lost 9-0.
‘We suspect that there was fixing in several competitive matches and also in some friendly matches which Nepal lost,’ he said.
Khanal said matches involving Bangladesh and Afghanistan, played as part of a regional competition, were also being investigated.
Bishwa Raj Pokharel, Kathmandu police’s chief spokesman, told AFP that sums ranging from $1,000 to $1,500 had been deposited in the players’ accounts courtesy of the alleged overseas betting syndicates.
Nepal’s football association said that all of the accused would be suspended pending the outcome of the police investigation, and expressed sadness at the allegations.”
This report in The Himalayan Times gave further detail, including an assertion from the police that more people are likely to be dragged into the case:
“SSP Sarbendra Khanal, the chief of MPCD, said that the arrests were made after receiving complaints and tip-offs that the five were involved in match-fixing of national and international games.
‘They are accused of making quick bucks through match-fixing in cahoots with national and international bookies and fixers, and hurting the faith of fans and fellow countrymen,’ SSP Khanal said.
‘We were keeping tab on the suspects for some time,’ SSP Khanal said, ‘We had been monitoring their Facebook activities and international banking transactions.’
It has been learned that police were alarmed at Nepali national team’s dismal performance in international matches since 2011.
Police said at least one of the suspects has allegedly made investment in a casino in Sikkim of neighbouring India.
Police are looking into the allegations and are also trying to ascertain which laws would be applicable against their alleged offences, which, according to SSP Khanal, were tantamount to organised crimes against the state.
‘More people are likely to be dragged into the case as investigation progresses,’ SSP Khanal said.”
The AFC statement about the arrests and investigation stated:
“‘On the back of long-term collaboration between the AFC, Sportradar Security Services and Nepal Police, the Kathmandu Metropolitan Police Crime Division arrested five Nepali players, former and current, linked to match-fixing this week,’ the AFC said in a release.
‘The process leading to the arrests began when suspicious betting patterns were detected on a number of matches played by the Nepali national team. A year-long investigation followed, involving matches stretching back to 2008, further intelligence gathering revealing suspicious financial transactions linked to Nepali nationals,’ the release added. ‘The intelligence gathered was shared with Nepali Police and a formal investigation began which has so far resulted in five arrests.’”
The five footballers were presented before the Special Court on October 27, 2015.
On November 8, 2015, an AFP report quoted the registrar, Bhadrakali Pokharel, as saying that the government had charged them with treason and had sought a life sentence as punishment. He added that the players were charged under a 1989 act, which says that anyone “causing or attempting to cause disorder with the intention of jeopardising Nepal’s sovereignty, integrity or national unity, shall be liable for life imprisonment.”
On August 26, 2016, the AFC published its verdict rejecting the appeals made against the suspensions. (Details of the matches fixed are listed at the link given at the end of this AFC statement.) Five games are listed over a four-year period, starting with fixtures against Afghanistan on October 17, 2008 and December 9, 2009, followed by matches against the Philippines on October 11, 2011, Malaysia U-23 on October 15, 2011 and Cameroon on August 26, 2012. Sagar Thapa, the captain, and Ritesh Thapa, the goalkeeper, played in all five games, and Sandip Rai, the vice captain, played in the last four listed fixtures. Anjan KC played in the first two listed fixtures and Bikash Singh Chettri in the first and fourth. In all cases, the two charges faced were corruption and unlawfully influencing match results contrary to Articles 62 and 69 of the AFC Disciplinary Code.
On November 8, 2015, the Nepali-language magazine, Himal Khabarpatrika, published a long and wide-ranging article on the match fixing allegations. The front cover of the issue carrying the article had a portrait photograph of a pensive-looking Ganesh Thapa. The heading, emblazoned in red, translates as, “Planned ‘treason,’” and the pertinent question as: “The AFC vice chairman and ANFA chairman Ganesh Thapa had information that Nepali footballers were ‘match fixing’ against the country in 2008 but stayed silent, why?”
These short translated extracts are intended to give details in the article not covered previously, and to highlight again how many aspects of this sordid affair have apparently been left hanging in the air:
“ANFA’s apathy, even when the players, including the captain and five players, are found to be engaged in a ‘treasonous’ campaign to defeat the country, is suspect. Apart from issuing a press release about the accused players, ANFA has not said a word. ANFA president Thapa has not begun internal investigations, nor has he resigned on moral grounds. Instead, police officials say he is not really helping the investigation. But Thapa says he is. He says, ‘I am giving the information requested by the police.’
According to ANFA vice chairman Karma Tsering Sherpa, AFC had asked ANFA to investigate the match fixing repeatedly since 2008, but ANFA chair Thapa gathered the players and made them swear. [The apparent implication: to keep things secret.] In their statements to the police, the players have accepted their crime. The statement says the players received up to $5,000 [520,000 rupees] for match fixing in different games.
The police say Anjan used the illegal match fixing money to invest in casinos together with gangster Dinesh Adhikari (Chari). Anjan himself invested in casinos in Kathmandu and Sikkim. Anjan has invested the money in a restaurant owned by Gaurav Thapa, the son of parliamentarian Ganesh Thapa nominated to the parliament by the RPP.
People knowledgeable about Nepali football say the five players arrested for match fixing are only the ‘faces.’ One official from ANFA says, ‘Nobody believes that the players, who considered Ganesh Thapa god, raised this much money without his orders and consent.’ ANFA vice chair Karma Tsering Sherpa says it is not only the players but the officials of ANFA who should be investigated. He claims that the five thousand dollars the players took per game to lose was only token money, and the real planning could have been done by others.
Thapa is being investigated by both the CIAA and the Department of Money Laundering Investigations. Because he is a man of ‘access,’ his case has been put on hold by the CIAA, and the Department of Money Laundering Investigation also says ‘the investigation is ongoing.’ The Department chair Kebal Bhandari says the relevant bodies are not helping enough with the investigations. He says, ‘We have asked for Thapa’s property details, FIFA’s investments, and banking details.’ He claims since questions have also risen about Thapa’s son Gaurav, they are handling it as a single case. The next investigation will also pay attention to the match fixing aspect, Bhandari says.
Knowledgeable people say match fixing is tied to the reason former coach Graham Roberts’ contract was not extended. The source says that Graham had repeatedly raised the issue of match fixing with chair Thapa. Graham became suspicious after the incident at the October 11, 2011 game against the Philippines in the Rizal Stadium in Manila. Nepal conceded the first goal after 17 minutes because of weak defending. Captain Sagar was the leader of the defence and Graham took him off. According to the source, a bookie told Graham that Nepal was going to lose 4–0, and his players were involved. ‘He didn’t believe it but he was suspicious of the captain and sent Bhola Silwal on to the pitch,’ the source says. When Nepal lost 4–0 just as the bookie said, the hard-mannered Graham came down firmly on the players.
On links between the match fixing and Ganesh Thapa’s son, Gaurav, investigations show that he might have arranged the deals between the match fixers and players. The source claims that the investigations show that Gaurav, who has an officer level job in the AFC, organized many games on his own initiative, and those games were fixed. The 2011 friendlies with Malaysia and the Philippines were organized for fixing. Such fixing is called ‘sporting fixing.’ The fixings done to win money are called ‘beating fixing.’
There are suspicions that Gaurav, the ANFA chair’s son, who had received the role of match commissioner from AFC, had organized the friendlies to raise the FIFA rankings of the other countries. In such games, the organizing country pays for all travel and lodging for the visiting country, and pays up to $50,000 per game to the visiting country. The police are also suspicious why Gaurav went to Malaysia immediately after the players were arrested for match fixing.
The arrested players are not only intimate with Gaurav, but also have business partnerships. Gaurav, Anjan and Sandip are the products of the first batch of ANFA academy. According to vice chair Sherpa, AFC had repeatedly asked ANFA to recruit an integrity officer to investigate match fixing. Thapa unilaterally appointed former DIG Madhab Thapa as integrity officer. Chair Thapa chose to overlook his lack of knowledge of the issues.
Whatever Ganesh Thapa did or did not know or do, these disgraceful and criminal actions happened on his watch as president, and over an extended period when Nepal’s position on FIFA’s world rankings was plummeting. One is left wondering just how many games might have been fixed and who knew what and when. The Nepal police gave many hints that more games were fixed than the five listed on the AFC charge sheet, and that other people not named had been placed under surveillance. The Himal Khabarpatrika article highlights other related issues, such as the role of Gaurav Thapa, which cry out for investigation. What has happened to the Department of Money Laundering Investigation? The guilty players must have stories to tell and the proper place to tell them is in the criminal courts. There are strong indications that powerful people have large vested interests in them staying silent. It will be interesting to see what emerges at their trial. It is surely unthinkable that criminal charges of such a serious nature should be quietly dropped.
Why was FIFA slow to act?
It was not just ANFA’s vice presidents who expressed increasing despair at the length of time it was taking FIFA to announce the outcome of its investigation of Ganesh Thapa. By the beginning of October 2015, this had dragged on for over three years. Why was it taking so long? Bin Hammam was suspended in May 2011. FIFA had access to the audit report of AFC, with its revelatory details, in July 2012. In the same year, FIFA initiated its investigation of ANFA. The Sunday Times articles appeared in June 2014. On the morning after the first article was published, the two journalists had contacted FIFA offering to share all their material. In addition to Bin Hammam, many senior AFC football figures had been suspended, including one of his key fixers, the Sri Lankan, Manilal Fernando.
The longer FIFA remained silent on Ganesh Thapa, the more speculation grew that he enjoyed special protection because of his long-standing links to Sepp Blatter who had become FIFA president on June 8, 1998. Despite being dogged by persistent claims of corruption and financial mismanagement within FIFA, he was re-elected in 2002, 2007, 2011, and 2015. In an article published on February 19, 2015, Sushil Thapa wrote: “What baffles me the most is why it is taking so long for FIFA to review the case and give their verdict? I can only think of one thing that would explain it. Taking into account the upcoming FIFA presidential elections, Mr. Thapa is very important to FIFA boss Mr. Blatter. It is obvious that he has a vested interest in keeping Mr. Thapa afloat. On the other hand, Mr. Thapa’s last hope is Mr. Blatter.”
On October 8, 2015, a FIFA media release broke the news that: “The adjudicatory chamber of the Ethics Committee chaired by Hans Joachim Eckert has provisionally banned FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter, UEFA President and FIFA Vice-President Michel Platini, and FIFA Secretary General Jérôme Valcke (who has already been put on leave by his employer FIFA) for a duration of 90 days. The duration of the bans may be extended for an additional period not exceeding 45 days. The former FIFA Vice-President Chung Mong-joon has been banned for six years and fined CHF 100,000. During this time, the above individuals are banned from all football activities on a national and international level. The bans come into force immediately.”
Two weeks previously, the Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland announced that “criminal proceedings against the President of FIFA, Mr. Joseph Blatter, have been opened on 24 September 2015 on suspicion of criminal mismanagement (Article 158 Swiss Criminal Code/SCC) and—alternatively—misappropriation (Article 138 Swiss Criminal Code/SCC).”
FIFA suspends Ganesh Thapa for ten years
On November 16, 2015, whether connected to Blatter’s suspension or not, FIFA’s independent Ethics Committee banned Ganesh Thapa for ten years from all football activities at both the national and international level. The published judgement stated:
“Mr. Thapa, in the context of the 2009 and 2011 elections for the FIFA Executive Committee at the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) congress, committed various acts of misconduct over several years, including the solicitation and acceptance of cash payments from another football official, for both personal and family gain. Specifically, he was found guilty of infringing article 13 (General rules of conduct), article 15 (Loyalty), article 18 (Duty of disclosure, cooperation and reporting), article 19 (Conflicts of interest), article 20 (Offering and accepting gifts and other benefits) and article 21 (Bribery and corruption) of the FIFA Code of Ethics (FCE). Mr. Thapa has therefore been banned for ten years from all football-related activities and fined CHF 20,000.”
Republica’s first report of the ban included quotes from unnamed parliamentary officials calling for Thapa to resign immediately from his parliamentary seat since he had been given one of the 26 seats reserved for those who had given outstanding service to the nation. They said that FIFA’s decision to ban Thapa made his holding one of those seats morally untenable. Within a few hours, these quotes were removed. I uploaded a long post to Facebook drawing attention to these words on November 17, 2015.
The FIFA statement resulted in a very strong editorial in The Kathmandu Post, the opening three sentences of which were: “For as long as one can remember, Ganesh Thapa has been synonymous with corruption in Nepali football. Yet, even after being embroiled in a string of scandals, the former national team striker has always been able to escape justice by using his political connections. Not this time.”
The final three paragraphs are worth giving in full:
“In 2012, an audit report of the Asian Football Confederation revealed that Gaurav Thapa, Ganesh Thapa’s son, had received $100,000 in his account from Mohamed bin Hammam, former president of the Asian Football Confederation. Fifa has since banned Hammam from all football-related activities for life. Thapa, however, shamelessly defended himself by saying that he had ‘borrowed’ money from Hammam for personal use. Thapa has also been accused of doctoring audit reports of Anfa, i.e., completely omitting the mention of the Goal Project through which it received $180,000 from Fifa in four phases from 2001 to 2012. An auditor also found that the company ‘involved’ in the construction of the Satdobato Sports Complex does not even exist.
By all accounts, remaining at the helm of Nepali football for over two decades only seems to have emboldened Thapa to scale new heights of corruption. His political clout is partly to blame. Despite his tainted image, he was nominated as a Constituent Assembly member by the Rastriya Prajatantra Party-Nepal led by his brother, incumbent Deputy Prime Minister Kamal Thapa. And now, Ganesh Thapa is a Member of Parliament.
The Fifa ban on Thapa, therefore, comes as a respite to many who have long been frustrated at successive governments’ hesitation to take action against him. Against this backdrop, the PAC should now question the CIAA and demand that its officials clarify the grounds on which they dropped the case against Thapa. It should also direct other concerned authorities to thoroughly investigate all the accusations against him. It would also do well for Thapa and his toadies to cooperate, as all the skeletons have now stumbled out of the closet. Hiding is not an option.”
Apart from the failure to call for Ganesh Thapa’s removal from the CA, given that he had demonstrably sullied Nepal’s name internationally, this article is as strong as one could have wished. But what did it achieve? There was no further action from the government, the PAC, or the CIAA and, as will become clear later, his toadies are still running ANFA.
It is also worth recording what was said in this short article from The Kathmandu Post on November 17, 2015: “Minister for Youth and Sports, Satyanarayan Mandal, has said that misconducts and irregularities surfaced in the country’s football sector have inflicted pain upon nation’s sovereignty. The disciplinary action taken by the Federation of International Football Association (FIFA) against All Nepal Football Association President Ganesh Thapa has drawn the serious attention of government, he said, adding that he has already proposed government to form a probe committee to find out the facts surrounding allegations on Thapa.”
Nothing more was heard of the probe committee. Nor was there any strong, sustained follow-up in the media calling for renewed action by the CIAA and highlighting how morally reprehensible it was for Ganesh Thapa to remain as a CA member. Why this reluctance to call for his immediate suspension? Several reasons spring to mind. The most generous is that there may have been confusion about his stated intention to appeal. Republica gave this quote from his media release: “I am very disappointed and I don’t believe that justice has been served. I have fully cooperated with FIFA during their investigations since last four years. I shall demand a full statement regarding the decision. I intend to follow the necessary steps at FIFA and if necessary CAS (Court of Arbitration of Sports) to establish my innocence.”
On April 22, 2016, the FIFA Appeal Committee rejected the appeal but with the very minor concession that the ten-year suspension should begin from April 16, 2015 to take account of “the 210 days during which Mr. Thapa refrained from taking part in any football-related activity during the ethics proceedings.”
Following FIFA’s emphatic rejection of his appeal, it is again hard to find any articles in the media calling for Ganesh Thapa’s suspension from the Constituent Assembly, or even any which drew attention to the fact that he had been given a seat reserved for those who had given outstanding service to the nation, and that the FIFA decision made his holding of one of those seats “morally untenable.” Again, a generous explanation might be that the media wrongly thought that the matter was somehow sub judice because of his immediately stated and loudly proclaimed intention to take his case to the CAS. The Kathmandu Post recorded his response to the rejection thus: “My hope and expectation, following recent FIFA reforms, was that the Appeal Committee would correct the earlier findings. Unfortunately, it failed to do so. I will now be taking my case to Court of Arbitration for Sport. This will be the first independent judicial body who will review the case.”
Elsewhere he was widely quoted as saying that he had every expectation that the CAS would reverse the FIFA decisions.
The Court of Arbitration for Sport
CAS’s procedural rules are clearly set down on its website. Rule 48 details what must be in the content of the statement of appeal and Rule 49 states that the time limit for appeal “shall be twenty-one days from the receipt of the decision appealed against.”
It can be seen from this link that CAS publishes the date on which an appeal has been filed: for example, in the case of appeals against the decision of the FIFA Appeals Committee by Michael Platini and Sepp Blatter on March 2, 2016 and March 17, 2016 respectively, both submitted within the 21 days mandated by CAS. (On May 9, 2016, the CAS reduced Platini’s six-year ban to four years. On December 5, 2016, the CAS confirmed Blatter’s six-year ban.)
There is no record on the website of Ganesh Thapa submitting a statement of appeal for the simple reason that the Court Office of the CAS have no knowledge of him submitting a case to its jurisdiction. (Personal communication to author.)
Mohammed Bin Hammam
In an epilogue to their book, The Sunday Times’ journalists portray a sympathetic picture of a forlorn Mohammed Bin Hammam, still living the life of luxury in his large mansion in Doha, but with few friends, and now apparently ostracized by the Qatari authorities who are angry and embarrassed by the negative publicity his activities generated. They write:
“From time to time, some of his friends in the footballing world still get in touch. Not often, but it is pleasant to hear from them when they find time. His brothers in Africa and Asia still need a bit of financial assistance on occasion. A little help in funding their national leagues, or their children’s school fees, or this new artificial pitch or that new car. Sometimes, rarely, they will still come to dinner—if he arranges the jets and hotels to get them here” (p 454).
Bin Hammam made his fortune in the construction business so he is one of many to benefit from the large contracts let to build from scratch the nine stadiums needed to hold the 2022 World Cup, and the new urban areas surrounding them. But a consequential heavy price is being paid, and, in the same evocative epilogue, Blake and Calvert make it clear who is paying:
“Night is falling, the migrant workers who have toiled away all day building the World Cup city are retreating to their grim camps on the outskirts of Doha. They have flocked there in the thousands from India and Nepal but their dreams of joining a land of opportunity were soon dashed. They often go unpaid for months and the desert heat is harsh. They must labour all day under the scorching sun, often with no drinking water or food. Their employers have taken their passports so there is no escape, except in a coffin. In the summer, the migrant workers in Qatar die at the rate of one a day, mostly of heart attacks in the fierce temperatures. More than 1000 fell in just two years. There have been warnings that thousands more will perish before the World Cup arrives in Doha” (p 455–6).
For Bin Hammam’s friend, Ganesh Thapa, the outlook is much brighter. He gave a long interview to OnlineKhabar, which was published on April 26, 2016. The image that comes across is of a man confident about his future—and in a contented state of denial. There is no hint of remorse for the serious wrongdoings highlighted in the FIFA ethics committee judgements, nor is there any indication that he has any moral scruples about occupying a seat parliament.
In the interview, he speaks about his political ambitions and declares himself to be a monarchist and a believer in Nepal as a Hindu state. When tackled on the source of his funds, his response is: “I spend my own money for small things. In addition to that I am using my reach and influence to get resources. The AFC’s former President Bin Hamam and I have a close relationship. He is a billionaire. He has shown interest in the work that I do, and helped me. We will soon sign an agreement with Bin Hamam for the development of Makwanpur.”
Two other answers are particularly revealing. First, when asked about the comments people make about him on social media, he says: “The criticism that I have faced was of such a low grade one, that it has taken me past criticism. I am waiting for my time to come. I know that those who are resorting to slander now will come to my defence in the future. For now, I don’t have any answers to them.” Second, when asked about corruption his reply is: “As regards the corruption case, I have already received clean chit in Nepal. No one can point a finger of suspicion at me. As regards the cases outside of Nepal, I would not prefer to speak at the moment. But I am assured that time will prove that I was innocent.”
Clearly he has no worries about the CIAA re-examining the serious charges against him which it put “on hold,” though that would be an excellent test of what sort of chief emerges as Lokman Singh Karki’s successor. Finally, instead of establishing his proclaimed innocence before the independent CAS, he declares that he is relying on the abstraction of “time.”
Football in Nepal
Whatever Ganesh Thapa thinks, there will be no shortage of people who will continue to point the finger of suspicion at him. There will also be many who doubt his will, or even his inclination, to turn his back completely on the affairs of ANFA. Questioned on the subject in the interview, his answers were both ambiguous and evasive. “I am waiting for my time will come,” with its hint of menace, is a case in point.
The election for the post of president and leading office bearers of ANFA was held on October 24, 2016. In the build-up, there were serious allegations that the ANFA leadership had manipulated the election list to suit the candidates that they were backing.
The elections resulted in Ganesh Thapa’s minions being elected to all the key positions. One of his closest confidants was elected as the new president and his brother-in-law emerged as a vice president. Shockingly, two of the key senior officials from Ganesh Thapa’s time as president, General Secretary Dhirendra Pradhan and Treasurer Birat Jung Shahi, remain in post. The PAC had called for their suspension because of their alleged misappropriation, along with Ganesh Thapa, of 580 million rupees of ANFA funds. The CIAA, when they “dealt with” the Ganesh Thapa case, had also put the case against Birat Jung Shahi “on hold.”
Predictably, and ignoring the worldwide disgrace that his predecessor brought to football in Nepal, the new president paid a generous tribute to Ganesh Thapa, reported Republica: “He had a big role in leading football to this stage. Our duty will be to give continuity to what he did by bringing new policies.” Karma Tsering Sherpa, who had led the opposition to Ganesh Thapa, lost by just 5 votes out of 67 cast. He is quoted as saying that lots of money had been used to influence the outcome of the election though he would accept the result.
A frank exposure of what Karma Tsering Sherpa only hinted at can be found in this article in goalnepal.com, headed, “ANFA Election Outcome Is Defeat for Nepali Football.” This brief extract gives the essence of what is alleged: “No one disputes the fact that Mr. Thapa was the major force behind Mr. Shrestha’s electoral success. With so much at stake, he was determined to get his candidates win the election by hook or by crook. Mr. Thapa’s thirst for revenge against Mr. Sherpa, the man largely responsible for his humiliating disgraceful ouster from ANFA, was hell bent on doing whatever it took for him to foil his presidential aspirations. Mr. Thapa wanted to prove that he far from finished and still wields tremendous influence in ANFA. Ultimately he accomplished his mission with the help of his legion of cronies.”
The new president is quoted in the Republica article as saying that “football has got back on track recently” and that he would give continuity to it. What is the hard evidence for such an optimistic assessment? Again, the recent welcome success in the Solidarity Cup needs to be kept in perspective. If ANFA had been run properly over the last two decades, Nepal would not have been reduced to playing in a competition against six small countries which are, in FIFA terms, footballing minnows.
As Sakar Prasain has written, any success of the national team is down to the willpower of the team and the coaches who are starting to deliver better results despite the woeful inadequacies of ANFA. He has also highlighted that major reforms in every area are needed to realize the full potential of the footballing talent that exists in Nepal, and to get the country back to where it should be on FIFA world rankings. The first requirement is to produce properly audited accounts to show how every dollar from FIFA and AFC is spent. Investment in new infrastructure is of paramount importance, as is an appropriate increase in the spending on youth development. Women’s football is one of the fastest growing sports in the world. It would be a refreshing sign of progress to see a substantial increase in the money allocated to the women’s game in Nepal.
At the most fundamental level, what is needed in ANFA is a total change of culture. The men who backed Ganesh Thapa all the way, and who have never uttered a word of criticism against him despite all his manifest failings, do not look up to the task. Expect more of the same, though it looks likely that there will be lot less money to throw about because of the tighter controls now promised by FIFA and AFC.