FIFA Council member Constant Omari arrested for corruption

By SALEH MWANAMILONGO

Associated Press

KINSHASA, Congo (AP) FIFA Council member Constant Omari was arrested on suspicion of corruption and held for 24 hours in a public prosecutor's office in his home country of Congo while being questioned for alleged involvement in embezzlement, officials said.

Omari, who is also a vice president of the Confederation of African Football, was arrested on Tuesday night on the orders of Luzolo Bambi, Congo President Joseph Kabila's special adviser on corruption, a statement from Bambi's office said. Omari was released late Wednesday but was ordered to return for further questioning on Thursday, prosecutors said.

Omari, the president of the Congo soccer federation, was arrested along with two other federation officials and a government sports ministry official. The three other officials were still being detained Wednesday at the public prosecutor's office at a court building in Kinshasa.

The four were questioned on suspicion of embezzling money given to the federation by the government to fund the Congo national team and various Congolese clubs playing in competitions across Africa, according to the statement from Bambi's office.

It added that a fifth person wanted for questioning, the president of the Congo Olympic committee, is on the run. Bambi's office asked the Congolese public "to kindly lend a hand to justice" by helping to catch the missing Olympic committee official.

An investigation was opened into Omari and the others on April 2 and they had been questioned regularly since then. By Tuesday, prosecutors felt there was enough evidence against the four for them to be arrested.

The arrests of Omari, federation vice president Theobald Binamungu, federation chief financial officer Roger Bondembe, who is also a vice president, and sports ministry secretary general Barthelemy Okito came weeks after a public disagreement between the federation and the government over $1 million the federation asked for to fund teams and set up matches. The government said the amount was exorbitant.

The 60-year-old Omari was elected to the FIFA Council in 2015, one of seven Africans on the 37-member board headed by FIFA President Gianni Infantino. Already a member of CAF's executive committee, he was promoted to become one of two vice presidents of the African confederation last year.

"Following the arrest of FIFA Council member and CAF Vice President Constant Omari along with the two FECOFA Vice Presidents by the authorities ... FIFA is closely following the matter and gathering additional information but has no further statement to make at this stage," FIFA said. "More information could be released as the situation unfolds."

The Congolese league suspended all games until further notice in reaction to the arrests and in a show of "solidarity" with Omari and the two other federation officials. The league said they had been "humiliated and unjustly deprived of their liberty."

Updated April 18, 2018

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