Lausanne, Switzerland Mar. 7 (AP by Erica Bulman)--An IOC's ethics commission conceded that it believed Australian IOC kingpin Kevan Gosper was innocent even as it prepared to appoint an outside expert to investigate misconduct claims against him.
In an effort to maintain an image of impartiality, the commission member in charge of the case, former United Nations Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar, said the ethics panel would assign an independent expert to investigate charges that Gosper and his family accepted excessive hospitality from Salt Lake City bidders.
But he brought his objectivity into question when he downplayed the accusations, saying the panel already considers Gosper innocent.
``Innocent? That is our general feeling,'' said Perez de Cuellar, who will act as the middleman between the independent expert and the commission. ``We have a feeling Mr. Gosper is totally innocent of the allegations.
``It's a long file which deserved to be carefully considered, not because we have any doubt about Mr. Gosper's innocence, but because we have in mind the prestige of the organization itself,'' he said. ``We are very new body and we want to be extremely clear, we don't want to be accused of bypassing, we want to be very deep in this investigation.''
While many critics view his statement as a prejudgment of the case and an indication of the verdict to come, the IOC was adamant it would remain impartial, even though panel members admitted that knowing Gosper made it difficult.
``Kevan Gosper is our friend and that impels us to be more than ordinarily careful,'' former White House Chief of Staff Howard Baker said. ``And the fact that we didn't do anything is in no way a reflection on Kevan Gosper, but rather an expression of our determination to be fair but thorough.''
Gosper attempted to preserve the integrity of the commission he helped create, resigning from the panel before it began reviewing his case Monday. He said he wanted to protect the panel from any appearance of conflict of interest.
Gosper was one of the core figures behind the creation of the ethics commission, a semi-independent eight-member body set up last year in the wake of the vote-buying scandal centering on Salt Lake City's successful bid for the 2002 Winter Olympics.
Six IOC members have been expelled and four were forced to resign for accepting cash, scholarships, medical care, job offers for family members, lavish travel and gifts and other inducements from Salt Lake City bidders.
The IOC has paraded the ethics commission as proof of the Olympic organization's commitment to clean house and discourage similar abuses in the future.
But critics have questioned the credibility of the commission, especially after the panel suggested in December that its mandate did not include dealing with any new cases stemming from the Salt Lake City scandal.
The panel has also made it clear it cannot or will not judge IOC members without seeking outside consultation.
The IOC said the independent expert would be appointed as soon as possible based on proposals of two of its members, Baker and former French justice minister Robert Badinter.
``I'm not disappointed with the decision. I'm a little disappointed the matter wasn't resolved,'' Gosper said. ``I think, as Mr. Perez de Cuellar suggests, they think I'm innocent, that they would prefer to go through the whole procedure.
``But you know us, we're not fast movers and I'd much rather a proper outcome. It'll be a stronger outcome in my interest as well as the commission's. And I'll wait for that.''
Gosper has been under scrutiny for a trip his wife and two children made to the Deer Valley ski resort outside Salt Lake City in December 1993, and for a visit he made to the city in 1995. Both trips came while the Utah capital was bidding for the 2002 games.
Salt Lake City documents quoted $31,000 in expenses foor the two visits. Gosper and other IOC officials contend the expense claims were falsified.
While no date was set for the final verdict, Perez de Cuellar said he expected it would take a ``matter of weeks.'' Gosper said he expected the process to last 4-8 weeks.
Copyright © 2000 The Associated Press