GENEVA (AP) – Delving deeper into a devastating scandal, FIFA on Thursday asked its ethics committee to investigate 16 Caribbean football leaders over alleged bribery involving former presidential candidate Mohamed bin Hammam.
The officials are suspected in connection with being offered or taking $40,000 in cash to back Bin Hammam against FIFA President Sepp Blatter, then denying the corruption attempt to investigators led by former FBI director Louis Freeh.
The suspects from 11 Caribbean countries include Colin Klass of Guyana, a long-standing ally of former Caribbean football strongman Jack Warner.
FIFA said that Klass, a member of the governing body's Futsal and Beach Soccer Committee, has been provisionally suspended ''after consideration of the specific information received on this matter.''
''It is important to note that the investigations are still ongoing, and that it is therefore possible that further proceedings could be opened in the future,'' FIFA said in a statement.
The list includes Mark Bob Forde from Barbados, who was a FIFA-approved international referee for almost 20 years.
Haiti federation president Yves Jean-Bart is also under investigation. He made a speech at the FIFA Congress on June 1 criticizing English officials who wanted Blatter's election delayed while corruption allegations were fully investigated.
Dominican football federation president Osiris Guzman and vice president Felix Ledesma are also being investigated.
''I was at the meeting in Trinidad and Tobago and I'm willing to talk to them (FIFA investigators). Whatever is necessary,'' Guzman told The Associated Press in a phone interview in Santo Domingo. ''They have not contacted me yet.''
Ledesema denied being offered bribes to vote for bin Hammam.
''I never received any offers. I think this is all a political case,'' he told The AP.
The second wave of cases follows bin Hammam's life ban last month.
FIFA's ethics panel also suspended two Caribbean Football Union staffers for one year for their part in distributing the cash-stuffed brown envelopes in a Trinidad hotel.
FIFA then invited officials from CFU member countries for ''truthful and complete reporting'' of what happened during the Qatari candidate's May 10 campaign visit.
FIFA's legal process typically sees accused officials called before the ethics panel, which decides if the evidence demands further investigation and a full hearing some weeks later. Those under suspicion face being provisionally suspended from any football duty, including contacting other officials and attending national team games.
The scandal threatens to remove some of the Caribbean's most influential football leaders during a busy period of 2014 World Cup qualification matches.
Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados and Guyana - who each have officials on the FIFA list - have been drawn in a four-team, second-round group which is played from September to November. Their group is completed by Bermuda, whose officials were among the original whistleblowers exposing the scandal.
Barbados also saw FIFA suspend its most senior official, Lisle Austin, for one year on Wednesday.
Austin, a member of FIFA's referees committee, broke football rules by going to an ordinary civil court with a legal grievance against the CONCACAF continental body in the aftermath of the bribery scandal.
Warner resigned all his football duties and privileges in June rather than face FIFA justice. A leaked report revealed that the five-man ethics panel believed it had ''compelling'' evidence of a bribery conspiracy between Warner and his longtime FIFA colleague bin Hammam.
Warner had been an executive committee member for 28 years and was president of CONCACAF and the CFU, representing 25 of the 208 FIFA members.
The Trinidad and Tobago government minister returned to his home island with what FIFA called a ''presumption of innocence.''
Following FIFA's announcement Thursday, Warner's loyal supporters in the Caribbean may not survive the case so well.
Some officials made themselves targets for FIFA by writing letters in support of Warner and bin Hammam before the ethics panel first met in May.
FIFA's case was built on whistleblowers' evidence from the Bahamas, Bermuda, Cayman Islands and Turks and Caicos Islands who said they were offered brown envelopes stuffed with four piles of $100 bills.
Witnesses told FIFA that Warner said he'd advised bin Hammam to bring the cash equivalent of any proposed gift.
Officials from Puerto Rico, Surinam, Aruba, Curacao and Grenada then co-operated with the FIFA investigation by confirming they were offered $40,000 payments. A 10th CFU member, Cuba, did not attend the conference in Port of Spain.
However, FIFA is investigating one Cayman Islands offical, federation vice president David Frederick.
The 15 remaining Caribbean football federations were invited to meet Freeh's investigators for questioning in Miami or the Bahamas.
Some did not attend either session, and others accepted FIFA's expenses-paid invitation, though stood by earlier denials that any corruption took place in Trinidad.
FIFA issued a warning after bin Hammam was banned on July 23 that officials had a further 48 hours to give explanations and confessions or ''be subject to the full range of sanctions.''
General secretaries Noel Adonis of Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago's Richard Groden, and David Hinds from Barbados are also on FIFA's target list.
Tarnished by the scandal, bin Hammam withdrew his candidacy three days before the FIFA election, though he denies the allegations.
Blatter was left unopposed to receive a fourth four-year presidential term, and was endorsed by 186 of FIFA's 208 national members, including most Caribbean islands.
The 75-year-old Swiss official then pledged to clean up and reform FIFA in his final term.
Bin Hammam, the Asian Football Confederation president, has promised to appeal his ban at FIFA, the Court of Arbitration for Sport and Switzerland's highest civil court.
Associated Press writer Dionisio Soldevila in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, contributed to this report.