FIFA suspends Richard Lai over fraud

Guam’s football supremo Richard Lai, who pleaded guilty in the United States to taking nearly $1 million in bribes, was on Friday provisionally suspended by FIFA for 90 days.

The 55-year-old US citizen, who has been president of Guam’s football federation since 2001, pleaded guilty in a federal court in New York on Thursday to accepting nearly $1 million in bribes from 2009-2014.

Lai, an Asian Football Confederation (AFC) executive committee member who also sits on FIFA’s audit and compliance committee, agreed to pay $1.1 million in fines and forfeiture.

FIFA’s Ethics Committee said in a statement the 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,” the FIFA statement added.

Lai admitted receiving $100,000 in bribes from an AFC official in 2011, in exchange for voting for him for FIFA president.

He also pleaded guilty to receiving more than $850,000 in bribes between 2009 and 2014 from a faction of football officials wanting his help to influence FIFA and gain control of the AFC.

His admissions lead the AFC to suspend him with immediate effect earlier Friday.

Lai has overseen football in the tiny Pacific island of Guam — which has a population of just 170,000 — since 2001.

A large-scale US investigation has seen federal prosecutors indict around 40 football and sports marketing executives with allegedly receiving tens of millions of bribes and kickbacks.

The AFC was embroiled in controversy during the tenure of disgraced former president Mohamed bin Hammam, who stood against Sepp Blatter in the 2011 FIFA election.

Lia’s suspension is even more embarrassing for FIFA as he is a member of its Audit Commission which oversees salaries paid to top officials including president Gianni Infantino.