by Umaid Wasim
LAHORE: For more than a month, the group of officials led by Ashfaq Hussain Shah have been labelled as the villains of Pakistan football; the bad guys who have led to FIFA banning the country after seizing the headquarters of the Pakistan Football Federation from the Normalisation Committee installed by the global football body.
On Wednesday, 49 days after retaking charge of the PFF headquarters from the NC, they hit back. And, with evidence supporting why they felt it was necessary.
“Since we took the PFF HQ back, we’ve been gathering documentation about how the NC was working since its appointment in September 2019 and today I can say that we’ve uncovered things that are very depressing,” Ashfaq, the PFF president elected by the Supreme Court but not recognised by FIFA, told a news conference here at the PFF headquarters.
“The evidence we have shows that there were many personal agendas involved but no will to do anything about football, which has been in doldrums since 2015. That’s why there has been nothing done on the election front.
“Most of the evidence has come from the laptop of PFF NC finance director Adnan Us-Sadiq,” Ashfaq added.
The laptop, which was seized upon by Ashfaq group during the takeover of the PFF headquarters, contains numerous phone recordings in which Adnan is colluding with former general secretary Manizeh Zainli, former PFF NC member retired Col Mujahidullah Tareen and former FIFA official Mohsen Gilani to implicate former PFF NC chairman Humza Khan in financial corruption and harassment.
“The whole normalisation process has suffered due to Mohsen,” said Sardar Naveed Haider Khan, the vice-president of Ashfaq’s PFF. “Mohsen is very close to Asian Football Confederation president Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa and he says very openly in the recordings that [AFC deputy general secretary] Vahid Kardany and [AFC International Relations Officer] Purushottam Kattel are his men.
“Unfortunately the AFC let Mohsen go on interfering and influencing NC matters and took no action which is why we are where we are right now.”
The most alarming evidence presented, though, was a conversation between Muneer Sadhana, the interim NC chairman following Hamza’s resignation in December last year, and Mujahid.
In that conversation Sadhana is telling Mujahid that he has no authority to hire or fire any NC staff or to overturn any decisions taken by Humza.
Before resigning from his post, Humza had terminated both Adnan and Manizeh due to their differences and Sadhana told Mujahid that he had advised the duo to go to courts to make a case for the NC to reinstate them.
Both Adnan and Manizeh were subsequently reinstated and Sadhana went on to overturn decisions taken by Humza of naming the provincial normalisation committees as well the electoral bodies, bringing the NC back to square one.
At the time Sadhana overturned the decision, Malik Amir Dogar — another vice-president of Ashfaq’s PFF — hailed the move but Ashfaq said on Wednesday that “they were misguided by Sadhana at that point in time about the powers given to him”.
Further during that call, Sadhana and Mujahid can be heard making plans on how to slam Humza on financial corruption.
Mujahid reacted to Wednesday’s news conference, telling Dawn that the move by the Ashfaq group ‘doesn’t still justify occupation of the PFF headquarters’.
“They should go to a proper forum and address this issue,” he added.
Ashfaq responded to that saying that a complaint has already been filed with the FIFA ethics committee.
It is during Sadhana’s 20-day term in-charge as NC chief in December last year that Ashfaq group claimed that there was widespread financial corruption.
Documents obtained by Dawn show that the PFF NC compliance department red-flagged salaries given to Manizeh and Adnan for the month of December as they were higher than usual. The compliance department also red-flagged several payments made to lawyers who appeared for just a single hearing which was for the withdrawal of cases filed by Manizeh against the PFF NC following her early termination and in which the PFF already had existing lawyers.
“Mujahid, Mohsen and Adnan took advantage of the Manizeh situation to start a campaign against Humza alleging corruption, embezzlement, favouritism without any substantial evidence.” Sardar said during the news conference.
In a recording the quartet are planning to have Humza arrested. That arrest never happened.
Manizeh told Dawn after the news conference that she “she still stands for the truth and has all the evidence to back her claims.”
Manizeh had been brought in by Humza as the first female secretary general in February 2020.
“While welcoming the fact that the truth be brought out which would evidence the deep conspiracy including during my time, I deny any and all allegations of wrongdoing on my part,” Humza told Dawn in a statement. “I made certain honest mistakes due to being misguided by certain elements within and outside the NC but I strongly deny any allegations of corruption of bullying/harassment and would consider my legal options.”
Manizeh left the PFF NC barely eight days after being reinstated but Adnan carried on. Sadhana and Mujahid were later removed after FIFA revamped the NC, bringing in Haroon Malik as the chairman in January.
It also saw new members named, including Haris Azmat, Shahid Khokhar and Saud Azim Hashmi.
In a recording of the call in which Haris is being briefed by Mohsen, the latter details his links in the AFC, informing that both Kardany and Kattel will be among the interview panel for the NC chairman.
“Mohsen clearly identifies with a group [led by Zahir Ali Shah] fighting for PFF control and has his own ambitions of running for various positions,” said Sardar. “How can Haris be an independent chairman if he is being coached by Mohsen before his interview for the NC?
“Adnan, meanwhile, speaks to Mohsen on these recordings as if he’s speaking to his boss,” Sardar added. “He’s giving Mohsen all the insider information on how they can influence the NC decisions.”
In another recording, Adnan makes a sensational claim that he has obtained the signatures of long-time former PFF president Faisal Saleh Hayat, who was in power from 2003 until the NC took over.
“We can rectify any previous document or we can use it if we want to forge his signature on anything,” Adnan says as he discusses with Mohsen how things are under Haroon’s leadership.
“We will have to do something. He [Haroon] is up to no good. He wants to make a lot of changes in the statutes,” Adnan continues. “He wants a hung congress elected, one that keeps fighting so there is no majority from one faction. He wants to strengthen the organisation and put in powerful people on key posts which the congress can’t change.”
Adnan adds that he’s in line to be the deputy general secretary but then says Haroon “is becoming an [expletive] dictator”.
Adnan did not respond to calls from Dawn for comment.
Sardar called out Haroon for having his own personal interests in holding a franchise league in Pakistan and both he and Ashfaq slammed the PFF NC chief for not taking action against Adnan, who approved all the financial transactions during Sadhana’s tenure.
Haroon was asked about whether he’d listened to the recordings.
“My thoughts remain the same,” he told Dawn. “They [Ashfaq group] took illegal actions by which Pakistan football got suspended and continues to remain suspended. They have no legal standing to be in the PFF headquarters. They need to vacate unconditionally.
“That is the bottom line to restore Pakistan football. That comes first, everything else follows.”
The ban on Pakistan is due to be ratified at the FIFA Congress on Friday.
Ashfaq was asked if his group would vacate the PFF headquarters but his answer was a firm no. “After all of this, definitely not,” he said. “Absolutely not.”