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May 20, 2019

Powerful sheikh steps aside from IOC after forgery charge

Powerful sheikh steps aside from IOC after forgery charge
'Sheikh Ahmad al-Fahad al-Sabah is one of the most influential figures in international sport' - By: AFP/File ADEK BERRY

World sport powerbroker Sheikh Ahmad al-Fahad al-Sabah said he was "temporarily" stepping aside from his International Olympic Committee duties on Monday after the Kuwaiti was charged with forgery in Switzerland.

The Kuwaiti, one of the most influential figures in international sport, said he "strenuously denies any wrongdoing", calling the allegations "maliciously motivated by political factions within Kuwait".

Sheikh Ahmad said he would put his work with the IOC on hold until he had been investigated by the body's ethics commission.

"Sheikh Ahmad has today decided to step aside temporarily from his roles and responsibilities as an IOC member and chairman of Olympic Solidarity Commission, pending the outcome of an IOC Ethics Commission hearing," said a statement from his office.

The decision came after it was revealed at the weekend that Sheikh Ahmad and four other men -- three of them lawyers -- had been charged over an intricate forgery scheme linked to his efforts to prove that Kuwait's former prime minister and speaker of parliament were guilty of coup-plotting and corruption.

The Sheikh is a long-time IOC member who is close to the body's president Thomas Bach, and also head of the powerful Association of National Olympic Committees (ANOC), and chair of the Olympic Solidarity Commission in charge of distributing millions of dollars to help athletes.

The aim of the alleged forgery, according to the Swiss charge sheet seen by AFP, was to legitimise suspicious video recordings Sheikh Ahmad had presented in Kuwait as evidence of corrupt practices by ex-premier Sheikh Nasser Mohammad al-Ahmad al-Sabah and former parliament chief Jassem al-Khorafi.

- 'Politically motivated' -

Sheikh Ahmad, a senior member of Kuwait's ruling family and a former energy and economy minister, said he had material evidence that the senior ex-officials plotted a coup and stole tens of billions of dollars of public funds.

He presented video recordings to back up his claims, but their authenticity was contested.

According to the charges, Sheikh Ahmad is accused of orchestrating a complex set-up, in which he ceded the broadcast rights of the videos to Delaware firm Trekell, which allegedly is a shell company.

"It was discovered that the company was a company that does not exist, that has no structure," Pascal Maurer, a lawyer for former Kuwaiti prime minister Nasser al-Sabah, told AFP.

That did not stop Trekell from filing a lawsuit claiming the videos were fake, allowing an arbitration to be set up.

In the arbitration case, a judge signed a ruling stating that the videos were authentic, and received a 10,000-Swiss-franc ($10,000, 8,700-euro) payment in return, according to the charge sheet.

Sheikh Ahmad then attempted to use the Swiss court ruling as evidence that the voices heard in the recordings were those of the two former officials.

"The only aim of this arrangement was to be able to create a fictitious lawsuit between Ahmad al-Fahad al-Sabah and Trekell Group LLC with the goal of launching a fake arbitration," the charge sheet said.

The case against Sheikh Ahmad, who like Sheikh Nasser is a nephew of Kuwait's ruler, Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, is set to go before the Geneva court next year.

One of the other men accused in the case, who spoke to AFP on condition his name not be published, insisted that the videos at the heart of the case were authentic, and said the charges were merely part of a Kuwaiti power struggle over who will be the next emir.

"It is difficult not to see this as a bogus, politically motivated prosecution," he said.

Sheikh Ahmad's office meanwhile voiced confidence that he would be proven innocent, and that the IOC member of 26 years would soon return to his duties.

The Sheikh "has every confidence and trust in the Swiss courts and IOC Ethics Commission's impartial due processes and that he will be completely exonerated," it said.

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