Mohamed Bin Hammam's lifetime FIFA ban imposed for allegedly paying bribes has been annulled by the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
The ruling by CAS will cause huge embarrassment to FIFA, whose ethics committee imposed the lifetime ban one year ago. The 63-year-old Qatari has been not proven innocent by CAS but the appeal has been upheld on the grounds of insufficient evidence.
FIFA can bring fresh proceedings against Bin Hammam if the revamped ethics committee has any new evidence. Bin Hammam was found guilty by FIFA's ethics committee last year of paying bribes to Caribbean Football Union officials at a meeting in Trinidad last year while campaigning against Blatter for the FIFA presidency.
Jack Warner, who quit as FIFA vice-president after the scandal broke, told officials gifts of 40,000 US dollars each and totalling around 1million US dollars had come from Bin Hammam.
The CAS panel made its decision by a 2:1 majority and said in its ruling: "The CAS panel has not been presented with any direct evidence to link Mr Bin Hammam with the money's physical presence in Trinidad and Tobago, its transfer in a suitcase or otherwise to Mr Warner, and its subsequent offer to the CFU members for the purpose of inducing them to vote for Mr Bin Hammam."
The CAS panel added that "it is more likely than not that Mr Bin Hammam was the source of the monies" and that "his conduct, in collaboration with and most likely induced by Mr Warner, may not have complied with the highest ethical standards that should govern the world of football and other sports".
CAS stressed it was not finding Bin Hammam innocent but that the case was "not proven". The ruling states: "The panel is doing no more than concluding that the evidence is insufficient in that it does not permit the majority of the panel to reach the standard of comfortable satisfaction in relation to the matters on which the appellant was charged."
Bin Hammam had been president of the Asian Football Confederation and he was provisionally suspended by that governing body earlier this week. That followed an audit by Pricewaterhouse Coopers that centred on contract negotiations and payments to and from AFC bank accounts during Bin Hammam's presidency.
He was alleged to have breached a number of AFC regulations including relating to gifts and bribery. Sources close to Bin Hammam say the allegations are further attempts to tarnish his name.
Bin Hammam always claimed the FIFA action against him was retribution for having challenged Blatter for the presidency. He had been a growing force in international football and displayed his power by being influential in Qatar's runaway victory in the contest to host the 2022 World Cup.