Tunisia’s Football Federation (FTF) and its president Wadie Jary have knowingly misled sport’s highest legal body, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (Cas), a club at the centre of a controversial suspension has alleged.
CS Chebba FC, who were suspended in October by the FTF, maintain that the latter has filed a misleading translation to Cas in order to ensure that its sanction is not overturned.
Having finished eighth in its debut Ligue 1 season in 2020, the club was suspended for one year and relegated to the fourth division last October – officially for failing to register on time for the 2020-21 season.
After Cas refused Chebba’s request for a stay of execution regarding their ban on 30 November, in a preliminary ruling ahead of the new Tunisian season, riots broke out in the small Mediterranean city.
With a sense of injustice running high, protesters set fire to streets and threw stones at the police, who replied with tear gas.
“Jary didn’t just punish me, he punished a club, a whole town, the youth of Chebba,” CS Chebba FC President Tawfik Mkacher told BBC Sport Africa.
In May, Cas will definitively rule on a case that has split Tunisian football.
If sport’s highest court agrees with Chebba’s viewpoint regarding the alleged mistranslation, Jary – as the FTF’s leading representative – and the body’s general secretary, who filed the claim, could find themselves facing a Fifa investigation into a possible breach of its ethics codes.
Chebba have also filed a criminal complaint against Jary.
Jary did not address the allegation by Chebba when asked by BBC Sport Africa, but the new Confederation of African Football (Caf) Executive Committee member has denied any wrongdoing during his nine years in charge of the FTF.
Why were Chebba suspended?
Chebba insist that their suspension, which was decided by the FTF’s executive board on 17 October 2020, was politically motivated.
They say the suspension was in fact punishment for statements made by Mkacher, the club’s president, in early 2020.
Mkacher had publicly alleged a lack of transparency in the FTF’s financial management on several occasions, had called for an independent audit of the FTF and had repeatedly clashed with Jary.
“You cannot criticise the FTF in Tunisia,” said Mkacher. “Since 14 January [2011, the day President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali was forced into exile], you can criticise the president of the republic, the head of the government, the ministers, anyone you want – except Wadie Jary.”
“Today, we have a dictator for sport. We cannot carry on like this.”
“I read the [2018 report on the FTF’s financial affairs], saw misdemeanours beyond the realm of the imaginable and suggested the FTF should be audited. Since that day, we’ve been at loggerheads.”
Mkacher says his club has been sanctioned on seven different occasions by the FTF, with none of its appeals yet heard.
On 12 October, both Mkacher and Chebba’s general secretary were suspended for two years (also appealed) before the FTF both suspended and demoted the club five days later.
The decisions also sparked a furious reaction in Chebba, where the mayor resigned in protest, a general strike ensued and fans blocked roads into the city as they set up barricades and torched tyres.
“The demonstrations started after I was banned by the FTF but Jary, instead of calming things, then ordered the sanctions of 17 October,” said Mkacher.
“Chebba is a small seaside resort. It had never seen a general strike until then.
“In private, every [club] president is behind Chebba because what happened to us could happen to any of them – but they dare not speak publicly.”
In one of the more unusual reactions, 300 club members – ranging from junior players to staff and accompanying families – threatened to emigrate, boarded fishing boats and headed for Italy.
Singing songs on board ships bedecked in Chebba’s green colours, all were turned back by coast guards after reaching international waters.
‘Fraud, falsification and perjury’
On 9 February 2021, Chebba lodged a criminal complaint against Jary, FTF General Secretary Wajdi Awadi and translator Anwar Sediri with a court in Tunis, alleging fraud, falsification of documents and perjury.
According to this complaint, seen by the BBC, the club alleges the FTF deliberately mistranslated its Chebba verdict of 17 October – originally written in Arabic – into French for Cas.
The crux of the dispute centres on one word – “suspension” – which was translated into French not as “suspension” but as “mise en inactivité“, which means “being placed on inactive status”.
The distinction may appear minor but it is all-important because according to the FTF statutes, a club’s suspension constitutes a punishment that can only be imposed by a General Assembly.
Having not called a General Assembly, the FTF did not have the statutory power – the club argues – to suspend Chebba.
(The decision to place a club on inactive status – primarily meant to help a club facing difficulties put its affairs in order without endangering its current status – can be taken by the FTF’s executive board without any such assembly.)
Chebba took the step of having the original FTF decision in Arabic re-translated into French by three government-certified translators, who all used the word “suspension” in their translations (and not “mise en inactivité“).
In November, Mkacher visited Sediri, the translator who had stamped the French translation filed to Cas by the FTF’s Awadi.
In the presence of a court bailiff, whose record of the conversation the BBC has read, Sediri re-translated the decision and this time used the word “suspension“.
Chebba also allege in their criminal complaint that Sediri “confessed… in the presence of a court bailiff that Awadi had presented him with a document which had [already] been translated and had informed him that… Jary requested him to authenticate this translation.”
“The bailiff was with us when Sediri apologised,” said Mkacher.
Like the FTF, Mkacher has submitted his allegation to Cas.
The BBC has asked Jary, Awadi and Sediri for comment but received no response by the time of publication.
The origins of Mkacher’s complaints
Chebba first filed a criminal complaint against Jary in a Tunisian court in November 2020.
Communications director Moncef Lahmar detailed a host of accusations such as breach of trust and abuse of position, largely basing his allegations on an administrative and fiscal report of the FTF carried out by a branch of Tunisia’s finance ministry in late 2018.
The ministry’s 214-page report, seen by the BBC, listed a number of alleged irregularities in the FTF, including numerous double payments to various employees and suppliers, the non-declaration and non-payment of taxes as well as a failure to keep proper accounts.
Amidst the multiple accusations which Lahmar brought to the attention of Tunisia’s Public Prosecutor are allegations of double payments for players’ air tickets, the national team’s hotel stays, medical goods and, among others, some FTF employees’ salaries.
The report also alleged that the FTF deducted tax at source when paying some employees and suppliers between 2013-16 but had failed to declare this amount – some $315,000 (£230,000) – to the relevant tax authorities (for which it was later fined).
“Violations committed in the management of official federation documents are considered de facto acts punishable by criminal prosecution,” the report stated in its conclusion.
Since the FTF is partly funded by the government, the matter is of public interest in Tunisia with the report stating that Jary is responsible for the management of the FTF’s funds.
Under Tunisian law, in case of a serious statutory violation by a sports association, its executive board is dismissed and its president held personally responsible (before the dossier is then passed on to the Public Prosecutor).
Lahmar’s criminal complaint was the fifth against Jary that the public prosecutor received last year, with no follow-up yet commissioned.
The issue of alleged tax evasion by the FTF was also raised in a complaint by a non-governmental organisation called I-Watch, affiliated to Transparency International, in June 2020.
I-Watch’s main complaint was alleged tax evasion of some $300,000 by the FTF in 2016 when the body brought sportswear from its sponsor into Tunisia.
“Despite the denial of tax exemption by the Ministry [of Finance], the FTF acquired the tax exemption through twisted measures,” Tunisia’s secretary of the treasury wrote in November 2018.
Jary failed to directly address the matter when asked by the BBC but issued a blanket denial of all allegations against him.
Could Jary be in trouble with Fifa?
Football’s world governing body is already aware of several allegations against Jary’s management of the FTF after Tunisia’s then sports minister outlined concerns to Fifa General Secretary Fatma Samoura in October 2018, a month after the governmental report.
The FTF board, including its head Jary, had – then Sports Minister Majdouline Cherni wrote – “failed in their duties and obligations by violating the country’s internal laws, the statutes, regulations and ethical code of Fifa as well as the Olympic charter”.
“Fifa requested the FTF’s position on the allegations and a response was sent to (the) then sports minister, clarifying that several of the allegations involved governance matters that were being handled in accordance with Fifa’s regulations,” a Fifa spokesperson told BBC Sport Africa.
In late February, Fifa conducted a financial audit of the FTF.
Meanwhile, Fifa’s Ethics Committee has received complaints against the FTF, although a spokesperson said it could not comment on “whether or not investigations are under way”.
It remains to be seen what impact, if any, this mistranslation allegation by Chebba – fighting to return to a league it took the club 60 years to reach – will have.
After the club complained about Jary in October to Tunisia’s National Olympic Committee, the body banned him for four years, stating he had “breached national and international Olympic ethics codes”.
The Olympic body said it would forward any complaints – which “do not fall under our jurisdiction” – against Jary to both the International Olympic Committee and Fifa.
Yet both the latter and Caf have taken little notice of the Olympic ban, deeming it external interference (outlawed by Fifa) in the FTF’s running.
In January, Jary was adjudged by Caf’s Governance Committee to have no ethical issues in his past serious enough to prevent him from running for a place on its Executive Committee.
Some say he should have been investigated for allegedly infringing Fifa and FTF statutes regarding the duty of neutrality when he appeared to support the candidacy of then-Prime Minister Youssef Chahed for the presidency of Tunisia by accompanying him on campaigning trips in 2019.
Pictured sitting next to Chahed on at least one rally, Jary was put forward by Chahed’s political party last year to become a “head of government”.
“Jary is a politician,” claimed Mkacher. “He called me to ask me to support Chahed. For him, the federation is money and politics.”
The BBC sent more than 30 questions – covering a range of topics – to Jary.
“I categorically and radically deny all the allegations and accusations subject to your questions,” the 48-year-old responded by email.
On 6 May, Cas will assess the dispute involving the small coastal city club and the might of the FTF, and possibly steer the administration of Tunisian football in a different direction with its conclusions.