FIFA suspends AFC official over corruption charges
Former FIFA and AFC official, Richard Lai, has pleaded guilty in the United States to taking over $1million in bribes.
Richard Lai, Guam’s Football Association president and former member of the AFC’s executive committee, has been provisionally suspended from all football-related activity by FIFA, following his guilty plea to accepting over $1million in bribes from 2009 to 2014.
Lai a FIFA Audit and Compliance Committee member
Lai, who was also a member of the FIFA Audit and Compliance Committee, accepted bribes in exchange for votes and support for the FIFA 2011 elections. He also used his position as a FIFA official to execute favours for anyone who gave him money.
The Guamanian is also guilty of failing to disclose a foreign bank account.
For these charges, Lai agreed to pay $1.1 million in fines and forfeits.
FIFA issue 90-day ban
According to a statement made by the FIFA’s Ethics Committee, a provisional 90-day ban “comes into force immediately and may be extended for an additional period not exceeding 45 days.
“The request was remitted based on the guilty plea by Richard K. Lai, published on 27 April 2017 by the United States Department of Justice, in connection amongst others to charges of wire fraud conspiracy,” added FIFA’s statement.
Typically, the FIFA Ethics Committee imposes life bans on officials who plead guilty.
Lai’s provisional ban prevents him from taking part in the world football body’s audit panel meeting on May 8th in Bahrain. In the mentioned meeting, Asian football federations will elect delegates to the FIFA Council.
US investigation in to corruption in football
Lai’s case is particularly significant as it marks the first successful US-led investigation into football-related corruption outside the Americas.
According to the acting US attorney for the Eastern District of New York, William F. Sweeney Jr.: “Today’s plea marks another important step in our ongoing effort to root out corruption in international soccer.
“The defendant abused the trust placed in him as a soccer official in order to line his own pockets, and now he will be held to account”.
Gianni Infantino issues praise
Current FIFA president, Gianni Infantino, praised the US law enforcement agencies and promised full cooperation from the Zurich-based organisation.
“I would like to thank the American authorities for their continued efforts to stamp out corruption from football. I am happy to confirm once again, that FIFA will provide whatever assistance is needed by the U.S. and any other authorities around the world," said Infantino in a statement.
More than 40 football officials and businessmen have been charged thanks to US-led investigations, with 21 of them pleading guilty and paying huge fines.
The massive US investigation, unveiled in May 2015, precipitated the downfall of former FIFA’s president Sepp Blatter.