A Kuwaiti sheikh who is a major power broker in the Olympics and world soccer was sentenced to six months in prison for comments made in a TV interview three years ago, a local newspaper reported on Friday.
Sheikh Ahmad al-Fahad Al Sabah, who is a member of Kuwait’s royal family, denied any wrongdoing and said he would appeal the sentence and verdict. He was convicted of disobeying a prosecutor’s gag order by discussing a video involving a purported plot to overthrow the government.
The sheikh is an influential member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). He also heads the Olympic Council of Asia and the Association of National Olympic Committees, and serves on the executive committee of FIFA.
The court verdict could lead the independent ethics commissions of the IOC and FIFA to look into the case.
“This is a personal attack and unfortunately is symptomatic of the current relationship between Kuwait and the sports movement,” Sheikh Ahmad said in a statement issued by the Olympic Council of Asia. “Under Kuwait’s democratic constitution, it is my right to express my opinion freely, and that is all that I have done.”
The sheikh is viewed as key player in the FIFA presidential election on Feb. 26 next year. He is a backer of leading candidate Sheikh Salman bin Ibrahim Al Khalifa of Bahrain, and has been strongly courted by European soccer body UEFA since joining the FIFA executive committee this year.
A Kuwaiti criminal court issued the sentence on Thursday and set bail at US$3,300, the daily newspaper al-Qabas reported on Friday. It was not immediately clear if Sheikh Ahmad had paid the bail to remain free.
“I will continue to protect the value of democracy, freedom of right of speech and the autonomy of the sports,” he said in the statement.
The sentencing comes at a time when Kuwait is under suspension by the IOC and FIFA for political interference in sports. Patrick Hickey, the IOC’s point man on issues of autonomy, on Wednesday said that Kuwait’s sports minister has made the dispute “very personal” and “is not seeing reality.”
Kuwait is threatening to ban athletes from taking part in upcoming international sports events and to shut down the headquarters of the Olympic Council of Asia, Hickey said.
Sheikh Ahmad and his lawyer, as well as Kuwaiti officials, could not be reached for comment on Friday, the first day of the Kuwaiti weekend. He is a nephew of Kuwait’s ruling emir, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad Al Sabah.
Sheikh Ahmad had brought a legal complaint against former Kuwaiti prime minister Sheikh Nasser al-Mohammad Al Sabah and former Kuwaiti parliament speaker Jassem al-Kharafi, accusing them of conspiring to topple the government, laundering money and tampering with public funds. The complaint was based on a video purporting to show them conspiring.
Prosecutors placed a gag order on the case, but Sheikh Ahmad spoke out about it on Kuwaiti TV anyway. Authorities later dismissed the sheikh’s complaint and he appeared on state TV in March to issue an apology, saying he was “misinformed” about the plot, without elaborating.
Kuwait has the most free-wheeling political system among the Persian Gulf Arab states and a vibrant media. However, graft allegations have prompted recent protests in the oil-rich country.
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