Sometime today - perhaps even as you read this - American Attorney Michael Garcia will sit down in a meeting room at a hotel in Oman and look across the table at the various royal heads of the Qatar World Cup campaign, as part of his investigation into whether the bidding process was corrupt.
As recently as 48 hours ago, the sundry activities of disgraced former FIFA Vice President Mohammed bin Hammam, a Qatari national, were not considered germane to the proceedings. Qatar swore that he had nothing whatsoever to do - officially or unofficially - with their bid for World Cup 2022. Garcia agreed that he didn't even need to talk to the man, as he was simply irrelevant to the discussion.
Then, yesterday morning, The Sunday Times dropped a bomb, and the whole game changed.
Because the Times revelations, while sensational, tawdry and outrageous, may not be enough to get the transparently corrupt FIFA ExCo vote overturned or even get much of anybody in trouble aside from MBH, and he's untouchable, as he's already serving a lifetime ban.
The tale - and the juicy, unanswered questions - begins two months ago when someone described as "a senior FIFA official" gave The Times "over a million documents" including "emails, faxes, phone records, flight logs, documents and accounts" which lay out, in stunning detail, a campaign of bribery, payoffs and graft conducted by bin Hammam on behalf of the Qatar bid which is almost literally beyond belief.
(We'll set aside the identity of the whistleblower for now, except to say that I think there's some red herring-tossing going on here.)
Since most of the story, and a good many original documents, are behind the Times firewall, there's a limit to how much I can legally quote. Suffice it to say that while you spent Sunday watching Juergen and the Volksdeutsche play Turkey I was up to my armpits in slime, stupidity and disbelief.
The majority of what they've posted so far - they imply that much more is to come - consists of emails from the heads of African football federations either a) requesting money for various reasons - some football related, some not - virtually all of which they ask to have wired into their personal bank accounts, b) emails that consist of some variation on "as per our discussion, here are my personal bank details" and c) heartfelt thank you notes for the financial assistance, usually followed by heartfelt pledges of "support".
- A Gambian official with the prosaic name Seedy Kinteh wrote “I write to find out about the progress of my appeal concerning the Vehicle" which he said he needed so that he could visit various football venues around his country. Three months later, $50,000 was paid to him directly from Bin Hammam’s daughter Aisha’s personal bank account.
-Nicholas Musonye, general secretary of the Council of East and Central Africa Football Associations wrote to Bin Hammam:
“Your many years of hard work have been rewarded and you will go down in history books for what you have achieved for Asia and the people of Qatar.”
Two days later he forwarded Cecafa’s bank details to accompany a request for $200,000. The money was paid.
- Kalusha Bwalya, president of the Zambian FA wrote to Bin Hammam after a meeting in 2009: "As per our conversation, please..if you could assist me with about $50,000 for my football association and personal expenses"
The response came hours later from bin Hammam's personal assistant:
"Mr Bin Hammam conveys his best regard to you. Please find attached copy of bank receipt for an amount of US$ 50,000 transferred to your account."
In 2011 he wrote again, saying that was "a little thin on resources"; two weeks later, $30,000 appeared in his personal bank account.
- In 2009, Liberian Federation President Izetta Wesley wrote that she was "still waiting to hear from you" and got a quick response:
"Dear President Mr Bin Hammam acknowledge with thanks to your message. Can you please send me your Bank Account information?" Shortly afterwards, an email to Wesley said "Dear President Ms Izetta Attached please find copy of the bank receipt for the transfer made to your account".
- Namibian federation President John Muinjo writes: "Mr. President, I am drafting these few lines as a follow up to our discussion with regard to the financial assistance please."
- Former World footballing great George Weah, now a politician in Liberia: "I write because after meeting with the President, he told me to pass on my contact and Bank details information to you urgently. "
On and on and on it goes, page after mind-numbing page of it.
And what's striking is that while some officials say things like "My FA urgently needs an artificial turf field" but then ask that the money be sent to "my personal account", others make no bones about wanting money for personal emergencies, hospital bills, education expenses or sometimes, refreshingly, no reason at all aside from "please forward the money".
Federation after federation, official after official, lined up with their hands out and there's no evidence that anyone was ever turned down, although sometimes the emails sound a bit peevish at a delay.
And while a good deal of the money was paid out of accounts connected to bin Hammam's business ventures, the majority of the transfers came from his daughter's personal bank account.
Then there are the luxury junkets, for fed Presidents and their wives, to various vacation spots, international matches, meetings, retreats and whatever other excuse they could come up with to put up an official in a five star resort in an exotic location for a few days.
A summary sheet shows that, at one event, each representative was met as his plane landed (first class airfare on bin Hammam's dime of course) and as each one deplaned he and his wife were each handed an envelope with $5000 cash.
Hey, cab fare can be a bitch, right? And the prices they charge for a gin and tonic in most airport bars - well, it's just surprising they gave them so little.
All told, The Times has evidence that bin Hammam doled out a whopping five million dollars to international footballing officials great and small.
Much is being made of the fact that a good deal of the correspondence contains pledges of support and good wishes for the Qatar World Cup bid or, after the vote, congratulations on same - quickly followed by requests for a quick cash injection into someone's personal account.
Which is being widely touted as the long-sought-after smoking gun, to which I can only say: Not so fast.
FIFA rules prohibit voters from accepting any sort of compensation, cash or otherwise - what us simple folk would call "bribes" - in return for an official's vote.
And the fact is that out of the 30 African officials identified as having accepted, shall we say "gratuities" from Mohammad bin Hammam, only two of them were voters in the World Cup venue balloting.
The rest of these guys were just taking what was being offered. Call them gifts or whatever, but in the end neither Qatar or MBH got one single thing for any of it.
The Times wants to play connect-the-dots here and say that all the money being splashed around to CAF officials was intended to pressure the three CAF ExCo representatives to vote for Qatar, and thus the smoking gun.
And that just doesn't hold water; local federation officials have exactly no influence on these things. ExCo members get their own bribes, thanks very much. They amount to millions of dollars, and they don't care that you bought a car for some schmuck in Gambia or gave the wife of the Zambian fed President some walking around money. It's of no interest.
Take, for example, CONCACAF. If you wanted Jack Warner's vote for something like the World Cup, you weren't going to get it by sending an official in Barbados, Curacao or the Dominican Republic 30k. You got it by sending Jack a million bucks.
Anything else was a waste of money.
Same is true in South America: if you wanted the vote of a legendary crook like Richard Texiera (now hiding out in Miami with a reported $100 million pile of loot that Brazil will never get it's hands on) or a truly disgusting old greedhead like Nicolas Leoz of Paraguay, you didn't get them by paying for a nice vacay for some pipsqueak from Peru and his charming bride.
You sit down with them, work out a price and forward the money, It's very cut and dried.
Conversely, if you write a big check to the President of the Suriname FA and write "for Qatar World Cup bid vote" on the notation line, so what? Said President does not have a vote. You didn't buy a damned thing.
So OK then, what was going on here?
Well of course absent bin Hammam's personal testimony on the subject- which isn't likely to be forthcoming - we're left to speculate, and here's the best guess:
MBH was playing his own game and pretending it was Qatar's.
Immediately after Sepp Blatter was re-elected in 2007, MoBinny more or less announced his intention to challenge him in 2011.
But about a year later he ran into a concerted effort to replace him as head of the Asian Confederation (AFC), well financed by the South Koreans, who were sick of him.
It looked like he was going to lose until Sepp Blatter intervened, using his very considerable personal influence to swing enough votes to keep him in office.
Immediately afterwards, bin Hammam announced that he would "never" run against his BFF Sepp, ever, ever, ever, and everybody walked away happy. Once again, brilliant politics from Our Man Seppy.
Additionally, we know that Qatari officials didn't want him running for President on the theory that World Football was not going to turn the sport entirely over to their country, and a Qatari President, they felt, would diminish the odds of getting the WC, which was the prie they wanted.
Bin Hammam agreed to stand down. But we know now that he didn't mean it.
He didn't announce his candidacy until late 2010 but he wasn't sleeping. He was busy buying African support.
Africa is Blatter's ace in the hole, and if you can take those votes, Sepp is in big, big trouble.
After that, you swoop into the Caribbean, pay off Jack Warner, splash a little cash and that, along with his natural power base in Asia, has him in the big chair in Zurich faster than you can say Sepp's Your Uncle.
So bin Hammam spent two years and millions of his daughter's money locking up African votes in the name of the Qatar World Cup bid, over which they had no say whatsoever, looking towards the FIFA Presidential election just five months later.
The only problem of course is that Jack Warner got sloppy, they both got caught passing out bags of money to CFU members and both of them were tossed out.
As a result, bin Hammam wasn't eligible for election and got not one single vote.
All that money he spread around to the various officials got Qatar no ExCo votes because most of them didn't HAVE ExCo votes, and got him no FIFA Presidential votes because he was no longer on the ballot.
So what, exactly, can they charge him with? Sending money to people isn't a crime and he provably didn't buy a damned thing.
That leaves the guys who DID have votes, including Jack Warner, all of whom pocketed millions, plus maybe the biggest Qatar killer of all:
The Case of the Australian Double Cross.
Stay tuned. I only have two hands.