ANTANANARIVO • The e-mails in 2010 were clear. A Madagascan standing in his country's football elections wanted his billionaire friend Mohamed Hammam - the former Asian Football Confederation (AFC) chief now banned from football for life - to send him cash to help his campaign.
That scarcely mattered when Ahmad Ahmad was a relatively unknown administrator from a football backwater. But fast forward seven years and the 57-year-old is one of the sport's top officials after winning an election last week to lead football in Africa.
Fifa's independent ethics committee is looking into the payments, a prelude to a possible full-scale investigation, people familiar with the matter have said.
"It's his own money so he can spend it like he wants to," Stanislas Rakotomalala, Ahmad's lieutenant at the Malagasy football federation, said by phone, when asked about Hammam's support.
Campaigning in Madagascar, an island nation 400km off the southeast coast of mainland Africa, meant expensive travel, and Ahmad, the incumbent, was not allowed to use football federation funds, he said, in the first detailed responses on the subject.
The probe into the payments is a new setback to Fifa, as new president Gianni Infantino attempts to repair a reputation tarnished by the 2015 US indictment that toppled almost all of its top management.
Qatari Hammam was at the centre of that scandal, having been found to have disbursed cash around the world. In a rare comment since his exile from the sport, the 67-year-old said he could not deny sending money to Ahmad, but did not recall the specifics because he "helped many people".
"In no way can I remember who, when, why or how much," he said in a phone message, adding he had never asked for anything in return.
"I doubt any of my friends will be ashamed of my friendship."
Fifa's ethics committee declined to comment.
The investigation into Ahmad is based on the content of e-mails published by the London Sunday Times in 2014, which include a note from the Madagascan to Hammam's assistant, Najeeb Chirakal, that said the former Asian football head had promised to help with "my election".
Asked by the assistant how the money should be delivered, Ahmad suggested either bank transfer or a collection in Paris.
Hammam proposed to pay in cash, Rakotomalala said. The funds went towards printing election brochures and football equipment in Madagascar, he added.
Ahmad trounced Issa Hayatou 34-20 in the leadership election, ending the Cameroonian's 29-year rule and bringing down one of the most powerful figures in football.