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Groundhog Day: the next corruption allegations against the president of World Aquatics

He calls himself Captain Aqua. Husain Al-Musallam has been linked to a series of dubious dealings. The Kuwaiti was exposed as a bribe payer in FIFA criminal proceedings as the sidekick of the convicted Olympic Sheikh Al-Sabah – and is now once again accused of shady deals.

Captain Aqua. (Photo: Imago)

Smoke from the blown-out candles on the first-birthday cake of the Aquatics Integrity Unit (AQIU) still hanging in the air, the global regulator is facing a rising tide of integrity challenges.

January cast serious doubts on reform commitments at World and European Aquatics after both federations failed to ask António Silva to step aside from his roles as global vice-president to Husain Al-Musallam and continental president pending investigation into integrity matters that prompted the Portuguese government to order Silva's dismissal as head of his nation's swimming federation after a five-month inquiry found in favour of a whistleblower.

February has not got off to a better start.  In the first week alone, Al-Musallam has been:

  • the subject of a complaint that led Kuwait Olympic Committee (KOC) investigators to alert the head of NOC to an alleged association with a company trading in the Olympic realm
  • referred to the ethics commission of the KOC
  • been cited in a letter to a State Minister in which a public prosecution and anti-corruption authority investigation is suggested
  • forced to deny the allegations, which he tells THE INQUISITOR flows from political intrigue in Kuwait
  • apparently been cleared by the ethics commission the day before its organisation's president informed the Kuwaiti government that Al-Musallam had been referred to the committee for investigation
  • been alerted to allegations that millions in Kuwaiti public funds allocated to Asia Aquatics have gone missing. 

Let's start with what may be the simplest of the cases in play, the search for several million dollars.

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Questions over "missing $7m" of Kuwaiti funds at Asian Aquatics 

Al-Musallam is currently presiding over the World Aquatics Championships in Doha, Qatar, where a meeting of Asia Aquatics will take place on Monday on the periphery of the global showcase. One item will rule them all: accusations that $7 million of Kuwaiti public funds intended for the continental association have "gone missing", largely between 2009-2016 but also much more recently.

In a letter dated January 25, 2024, and sent to Sheikh Khalid Badr Mohammed Al-Sabah, president of Asia Aquatics (formerly known as AASF), the organisation’s secretary general, Kuwait-born president of the Oman swimming federation Taha Sulaiman Al-Kishry, notes his surprise at discovering that $1m had been allocated to the AASF by the Public Authority for Sport in Kuwait "but AASF has not received any part of it".

Just why public funds from any single nation would be allocated to support a continental sports federation in swimming in an Olympic realm with a Charter that insists on the separation of politics and sport, is a mystery at this stage but delegates from Asia will meet on Monday in Doha, in the presence of Husain Al-Musallam.

"Clarity on this matter is of prime importance for maintaining the integrity and well-being of our esteemed federation," writes Al-Kishry.

One of those who contacted us to share concerns about a lack of integrity and transparency, concluded:

"The sport is definitely under attack."

The Captain In Stormy Seas

Hot on the heels of the thunderous fall from grace of former Olympic kingmaker Sheikh Ahmad Al-Sabah, the machinations of Olympic and Kuwaiti politics continue to spill, with news that Husain Al-Musallam was referred to the ethics commission of the KOC in a letter that landed on the desk of a government minister this week with a stark suggestion:

"To ensure safety of public funds, Your Excellency may refer this matter to the Public Prosecution and Anti-Corruption authority (Nazaha, the Arabic word for Integrity) in the best exigencies of public interest."

His Excellency is Dawood Sulaiman Abdul Rasul Marafi, Minister of State for National Assembly, Minister of State for Youth Affairs and Minister of State for Communications Affairs for Kuwait. And the note to him came in a letter from Sheikh Fahad Nasser Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, the KOC president, who has been anything but a bored chairman of late.

He was acting on information from the KOC’s investigation committee on January 29 about "offences relating to the works of Public Authority for Sport." In his letter to the minister, the head of the KOC notes that …

"… there are contractual associations between Dynamic General Trading, Import and Export and Kuwait Olympic Committee regarding the 3rd Gulf Sports Games held in the State of Kuwait (May 2022) and that this company is owned by of a first degree relative of a board member of Kuwait Olympic Committee and the General Director of the Games."

Sheikh Fahad adds in his February 5 note to the minister:

"Based on our keenness to preserve public interest and in application of transparency, we would like to inform you that the Board of Directors of Kuwait Olympic Committee unanimously agreed at its session No. 1/2024 dated 1/2/2024 to refer Mr. Husain Al Musallam, General Secretary of Kuwait Olympic Committee, to the Ethics Commission for necessary action to be taken pursuant to the rules and regulations pursued in this respect."

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