FIFA probe reaches climax

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ZURICH, November 17- FIFA is due to announce on Thursday the outcome of a probe into alleged corruption and collusion that has upset bidding for football's 2018 and 2022 World Cups just two weeks before the hosts are chosen.

The ethics committee of world football’s governing body has been meeting since Monday in an attempt to complete its investigation after two of the 24 members of FIFA’s executive committee were provisionally suspended last month.

Four other football officials and ex-FIFA decision makers were also sidelined following the claims of possible vote buying raised in a controversial sting by undercover reporters for a British newspaper.

England, Russia and joint bids by Spain-Portugal and Netherlands-Belgium are in the running to host the 2018 World Cup, alongside Australia, the United States, Japan, Qatar, Russia and South Korea for 2022.

The events of the past month have revived uncomfortable memories of old influence-peddling scandals that shook world football’s decision-making body. They have also forced some of the front runners onto the defensive to avoid a backlash.

With another report by BBC television looming, England 2018 bid chiefs have written to all members of FIFA’s executive stressing they had nothing to do with British media reports.

In the letter seen by AFP, bid chairman Geoff Thompson, also a FIFA vice-president, said: "We hope England’s bid will not be judged negatively due to the activities of individual media organisations, regardless of one’s view of their conduct."

The chief of the joint Spanish-Portugal bid, Miguel Angel Lopez, has denied alleged collusion with 2022 candidate Qatar in the bidding process also raised by The Sunday Times.

A Swiss newspaper reported this week that Qatar’s bid committee recruited a major private investigation agency to probe figures at the centre of the media reports.

FIFA sought to restrict contact between executive committee members and bidders in July, and ethics committee chief Claudio Sulser has vowed "zero tolerance" if allegations of corruption or illicit collusion are proven.

But some observers believe the Ethics Committee that was set up four years ago in the wake of other scandals may not be enough to deter the shadier side of ever growing commercial stakes surrounding one of sport’s top events.

"FIFA faces a greater risk of corruption than other sports federations," said Sylvia Schenk, a lawyer and member of anti corruption campaign group Transparency International.

"We’ll have to see if this committee decides in an independent and transparent manner," she told AFP.

FIFA president Sepp Blatter wants to press ahead with the executive committee’s choice on December 2 after a glitzy and high profile final pitch by the bidders in Zurich even if suspensions on Nigeria’s Amos Adamu or Oceanian football chief Reynald Temarii are upheld.

Temarii has denied wrongdoing and vowed to clear himself before the Ethics Committee.

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