On February 9, an online news portal run by opponents of the Bahrain ruling regime published a controversial article on a “dangerous” claim made by Asian Football Confederation President Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim al-Khalifa on the potential extradition to Bahrain of refugee footballer Hakeem al-Araibi. The Bahrain Mirror, attributing its information to “two sources in the Bahrain sports field”, said Al-Khalifa had told the Gulf country’s Interior Minister Rashid bin Abdullah al-Khalifa that his positions as AFC chief and Fifa vice-president – for which he seeks re-election on April 6 – would be unaffected by any move to return Al-Araibi to his native country from a prison cell in Bangkok, Thailand. In addition, it claimed the AFC president – a member of the Bahrain royal family – actually supported the extradition of Al-Araibi, who was granted refugee status in Australia in 2017 and feared being tortured in Bahrain because he had publicly accused Al-Khalifa of being involved in the crackdown of athletes during the Arab spring. Two days later, Al-Araibi was released, with Thai authorities saying Bahrain had abruptly withdrawn its extradition request. Why did Bahrain, which previously maintained a hardline stance to have Al-Araibi returned, change its mind? Did the Mirror article – whether factual or not – have the potential to damage Al-Khalifa’s re-election bid? Or is it actually the case that Al-Khalifa feels untouchable in his two high-profile roles against challengers Mohamed Alromaithi, of United Arab Emirates, and Qatar’s Saoud al-Mohannadi in the Kuala Lumpur election, with official campaigning set to kick off on Thursday? Recent history indicates that Al-Khalifa has little to worry about. If revelations from one of the world’s most powerful law enforcement and intelligence organisations have failed to cast even a speck of doubt on the Bahraini, then the ‘Save Hakeem’ campaign that reached millions of people is unlikely to move AFC voting members, who were largely deafening in their silence during more than 70 days of Al-Araibi’s detention. America’s Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), no less, alleged during an April, 2017 corruption case against former top AFC official Richard K Lai that Lai was bribed by “co-conspirators” as part of a campaign to unseat former AFC president Mohamed bin Hammam and replace him with Al-Khalifa. At no point did the FBI suggest, assume or imply that Al-Khalifa was involved in the conspiracy nor that he even knew what was happening behind the scenes of his failed bid for Bin Hammam’s Fifa Exco seat in 2009. However, the FBI did say that Al-Khalifa, described in court documents as Candidate #1, was ultimately successful in becoming AFC president. Item 30 of a United States District Court, Eastern District of New York, dated 27 April, 2017, reads: “After the defendant RICHARD LAI received this $200,000 payment in November 2009, Co-Conspirator #2 and CoConspirator #3 began using LAI’s assistance in furtherance of their efforts to diminish Co-Conspirator #l’s power and influence over the AFC and FIFA. “Ultimately, their goal was to gain control of the AFC by ensuring that their allies obtained positions of leadership within the AFC, rather than CoConspirator #1 or his allies, and to influence FIFA, including through the election of AFC representatives to the FIFA Executive Committee. These efforts were ultimately successful, as Candidate #1 eventually was elected president of the AFC and a member of the FIFA Executive Committee, Co-Conspirator #2 was ultimately elected to the FIFA Executive Committee.” Earlier in the document, item 25 began to outline the “Scheme to Gain Control of the AFC and Influence FIFA” and identifies Candidate #1 as the “then-president of the Bahrain Football Association”, which Al-Khalifa was at the time. The second part of the item said: “Then then-president of the Bahrain Football Association (“BFA”), an individual whose identity is known to the United States Attorney (hereinafter Candidate #1), ran against Co-Conspirator #1 as a competing candidate in the election for the FIFA Executive Committee seat.” On that same day, Lai pleaded guilty to wire fraud conspiracy in connection with his participation in multiple schemes to accept and pay bribes to football officials. AFC statutes: “committed to respecting all internationally-recognised human rights” Last week: AFC admits President, Bahraini royal Sheikh Salman, has “conflict of interest” on his jailed compatriot, Hakeem al-Araibi in 1st statement on case, 60 days after his arrest in Thailand pic.twitter.com/9yHK3liHpV — Dan Roan (@danroan) January 28, 2019 <!--//--><![CDATA[// ><!--\n\n\n//--><!]]> The court documents have been in the public domain for almost two years yet none of the major footballing bodies appears to have taken it seriously enough to question Al-Khalifa’s positions as AFC chief and Fifa vice-president. Clearly, they have given Al-Khalifa the benefit of the doubt. After all, he had no part in the conspiracy but was merely the central figure in the agenda of others. The Al-Araibi case spawned an activist movement in Australia to oust Al-Khalifa, who recused himself of responsibility because of a “conflict of interest”. However, if FBI and Department of Justice court documents are not enough to rattle Al-Khalifa – a former Fifa presidential candidate – and his supporters, then Alromaithi and Mohannadi face an even harder battle to dislodge him from his two powerful posts.