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FIFA opens ethics probes into 16 officials

MIAMI (Reuters) - World soccer's governing body FIFA said it has opened ethics proceedings against 16 Caribbean soccer federation officials, following an initial probe into cash-for-votes allegations during this year's presidential election.

The cases are related to the meeting in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, on May 10 and 11 where it was alleged that Qatari soccer official Mohammed Bin Hammam handed out bribes to Caribbean members of CONCACAF -- the regional body for soccer in North and Central America and the Caribbean.

Bin Hammam, who was challenging Sepp Blatter for the FIFA presidency at the time, has been banned for life by FIFA but has protested his innocence along with ex-CONCACAF president Jack Warner, of Trinidad, who resigned before the investigation was completed.

Bin Hammam, head of the Asian Football Confederation, and Warner were both members of FIFA's executive committee.

Those under investigation include eight federation presidents, from British Virgin Islands, Dominican Republic, Guyana, Haiti, St. Kitts & Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent & Grenadines and U.S. Virgin Islands.

Haiti federation president Yves Jean-Bart was injured in last year's earthquake and described in a television interview how he escaped with his life when his office collapsed and the destruction wreaked on soccer in the country.

One of the 16 officials - Guyana Football Federation president Colin Klass -- has already been provisionally suspended from taking part in any football-related activity, FIFA said.

FIFA said the cases were "apparent violations of the code of ethics" and the governing body did not rule out opening more cases if fresh evidence is uncovered.

"It is important to note that the investigations are still ongoing and it is therefore possible that further proceedings could be opened in the future," said the statement.

The allegations, made after CONCACAF's American general secretary Chuck Blazer reported the claims to FIFA, came shortly before the re-election of FIFA president Blatter.

Bin Hammam was challenging Blatter in the June 1 election but withdrew before the vote, allowing the Swiss to be re-elected unopposed for a fourth term.

Several Caribbean officials described receiving brown envelopes containing $40,000 in cash.

Bin Hammam was banned for life by the ethics committee last month, when acting president Petrus Damaseb recommended further investigations into those present at the meeting.

Three days later, FIFA gave those present at the meeting 48 hours to provide relevant information and said timely and honest reporting would be taken into consideration when sanctions were considered.

The 16 officials facing investigation by FIFA are: David Hinds and Mark Bob Forde (Barbados, FA general secretary and executive member respectively); Franka Pickering and Aubrey Liburd (British Virgin Islands, FA president and vice-president); David Frederick (Cayman Islands, FA vice-president); Osiris Guzman and Felix Ledesma (Dominican Republic, FA president and vice-president); Colin Klass and Noel Adonis (Guyana, FA president and general secretary); Yves Jean-Bart (Haiti, FA president); Anthony Johnson (St. Kitts and Nevis, FA president); Patrick Mathurin (St. Lucia, FA president); Joseph Delves and Ian Hypolite (St. Vincent and the Grenadines, FA president and general secretary); Richard Groden (Trinidad and Tobago, FA general secretary) and Hillaren Frederick (U.S. Virgin Islands, FA president)

(Reporting by Simon Evans in Johns Creek, Gerogia, additional reporting by Brian Homewood; editing by Pritha Sarkar)

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