FIFA suspends audit official Richard Lai over bribery

Guam football chief Richard Lai, who is a US citizen, pleaded guilty to taking close to $1m in bribes.

Blatter - FIFA
Former FIFA chief Blatter has been suspended for eight years [EPA]

A member of FIFA’s audit and compliance committee was handed a provisional 90-day ban from football, a day after pleading guilty in a US court to taking bribes in exchange for using his influence within football’s world governing body.

In a sign of continued problems in FIFA, the ethics committee said in a statement on Friday that it had suspended Richard Lai, who is also president of the Guam Football Association (GFA), at the request of its chief investigator Cornely Borbely.

Lai, 55, pleaded guilty on Thursday to wire fraud conspiracy charges before US District Judge Pamela Chen in Brooklyn, according to US prosecutors who said he had taken close to $1m in bribes. 

As part of the plea, Lai, a US citizen, has agreed to pay $1.1m, prosecutors said.

President of the GFA since 2001, Lai sits on the committee responsible for checking FIFA’s financial accounting.

He was also suspended on Friday by the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), where he is a member of the marketing committee.

Lai was not among several dozen officials and sports marketing agencies, mainly from Latin America, who were indicted in the United States in 2015, the biggest crisis in FIFA’s history.

The latest plea reaches deep into Asian football for the first time and involves an official who retained his position monitoring FIFA’s multibillion-dollar income and spending in the transition from former President Sepp Blatter to his successor Gianni Infantino.

The Pacific island of Guam is a US territory, though its football association is a member of the AFC. As a full FIFA member, it holds a vote in FIFA presidential elections.

READ MORE: Sepp Blatter and allies ‘awarded’ themselves $80m

Announcing Lai’s guilty plea, the US Department of Justice said his “breach of trust was particularly significant given his position as a member of the FIFA Audit and Compliance committee, which must play an important and independent role if corruption within FIFA is to be eliminated”.

Infantino, elected in February 2016 to rebuild FIFA, thanked the US prosecutors “for their continued efforts to stamp out corruption from football, which is also the top priority of the new leadership of FIFA”.

“The new FIFA has been fully supportive of the U.S. authorities’ investigations, and will continue to be,” he said.

“I am happy to confirm once again, that FIFA will provide whatever assistance is needed by the US and any other authorities around the world.”

Source: News Agencies