Paris: The Court of Abitration for Sport on Thursday overturned a life ban imposed by football's world governing body FIFA against Qatar's Mohamed Bin Hammam, citing "insufficient evidence" to impose the penalty.

But a three-member panel who considered the case stopped short of exonerating the 63-year-old, who was accused of offering cash bribes to buy FIFA delegate votes during campaigning to unseat long-standing president Sepp Blatter last year.

Bin Hammam strongly denied wrongdoing in the FIFA presidential challenge last year, maintaining that the $40,000 in unmarked envelopes that were offered during the election campaign to delegates of the Caribbean Football Union (CFU) were gifts.

He described the charges and his punishment as politically motivated. A one-time close associate of the powerful Blatter, the two became estranged following a falling-out.

The Lausanne-based tribunal said in a statement on its website: "The CAS has upheld Mr Bin Hammam's appeal, annulled the decision rendered by the FIFA Appeal Committee and lifted the life ban imposed on Mr Bin Hammam."

But it added the three-member panel that considered the appeal "was unable to conclude to its comfortable satisfaction that the charges against Mr Bin Hammam were established" and considered the case "not proven".

There was no direct evidence to link Bin Hammam with the money's presence at a CFU meeting in Trinidad and Tobago and CFU chief Jack Warner had initially said the gift was from the federation but later said it was from Bin Hammam, the ruling said.

"No efforts" were made to trace the source of the money but the panel said it was "possible to infer" that Bin Hammam's failure to prove the cash's provenance "might be explained by the fact that it would have confirmed that he was the source".

The CAS panel said it was "more likely than not that Mr Bin Hammam was the source of the monies that were brought into Trinidad and Tobago and eventually distributed at the meeting by Mr Warner".

In that way "his (Bin Hammam's) conduct, in collaboration with and most likely induced by Mr Warner, may not have complied with the highest ethical standards that should govern the world of football and other sports.

"This is all the more so at the elevated levels of football governance at which individuals such as Mr Bin Hammam and Mr Warner have operated in the past."

The CAS said the panel was applying the law under the tribunal's code but "not making any sort of affirmative finding of innocence in relation to Mr Bin Hammam".

It was "doing no more than concluding that the evidence is insufficient in that it does not permit the majority of the Panel to reach the standard of comfortable satisfaction in relation to the matters on which the Appellant was charged.

"It is a situation of 'case not proven', coupled with concern on the part of the Panel that the FIFA investigation was not complete or comprehensive enough to fill the gaps in the record."

The lifting of the FIFA life ban does not mean that Bin Hammam - who helped secure Qatar's successful bid for the 2022 World Cup - is free to resume footballing activities.

He was provisionally replaced after nine years as president of the Asian Football Federation (AFC) pending appeals and on Monday was suspended for a further 30 days over fresh corruption claims after an external audit of AFC financial accounts.

The AFC said the audit concerned "the negotiation and execution of certain contracts and with the financial transactions made in and out of AFC bank accounts and his personal account during the tenure of Mr Bin Hammam's presidency".

The TAS said the case could still be re-opened should new evidence emerge.


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